March 22, 2022

Bart Ehrman is one of the most well-known and influential critics of traditional Christianity and the inspired Bible (“anti-theists”) writing today. Formerly, in his own words, he was “a fundamentalist for maybe 6 years; a conservative evangelical but not extreme right wing for maybe 5 years more; and a fairly mainstream liberal Christian for about 25.” The primary reason he gives for having lost his faith is the problem of evil (a very serious topic I have dealt with many times). He stated on 3-18-22 in a comment on his blog: “I could no longer explain how there could be a God active in this world given all the pain and misery in it.” I don’t question his sincerity, good intentions, intellectual honesty, or his past status as a Christian; only various opinions which Christians must (in consistency) regard as erroneous.

Dr. Ehrman “received his PhD and MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary, where he studied textual criticism of the Bible, development of the New Testament canon and New Testament apocrypha under Bruce Metzger.” He has written 30 books, which have sold over two million copies and have been translated into 27 languages.

Ehrman explains that the purpose of his blog is “to disseminate scholarly knowledge of the New Testament and the earliest periods of the Christian church to a non-scholarly audience, . . . Every post is rooted in scholarship – not just my own but that of thousands of scholars who have worked for centuries on understanding the historical Jesus, the New Testament, and the origins of Christianity.” Well, the conclusions of scholars are only as good as the solidity and truthfulness of the premises by which they are operating.

This is one of a series of reply-papers, in which I will address many of his materials from the perspective of archaeology, history, and exegesis.


I am responding to his articles, But Why Doesn’t Paul Say More About the Historical Jesus? (12/9/2021) and Why Doesn’t Paul Say More about the Historical Jesus? Other Options. (12-11-21). His words will be in blue.

To this point I have enumerated everything that Paul explicitly says about what Jesus said, did, and experienced during his earthly life.  The driving question is the one that I turn to now and in the next post.  Why didn’t Paul tell us more?

The short (and I think, obvious) answer is that we have the four Gospels that already do so. How many times are necessary? Now, I could see that if there were no Gospels, and Paul was all we had, that it would become altogether necessary, to present the whole picture. But with them present, the equation changes. Paul is basically writing systematic theology: how the atoning death of Christ brings salvation.

He is dealing with the theological implications; doing theology; whereas the Gospels (much more in the style of the Old Testament), are “doing” the life of Christ; telling the story of His ministry and mission. The Old Testament had very little systematic theology per se. Paul was offering something new and exciting: in effect being more “Greek” than “Jewish” in his approach and intention.

I suppose Ehrman could come back with “the Gospels weren’t written yet when Paul wrote his letters.” Whether they were or not, there were certainly very strong oral traditions out and about, by this time, some twenty or more years after the crucifixion. All are agreed on that. Paul assumes that his readers already have this knowledge:

Ephesians 4:20-21 (RSV) You did not so learn Christ! — [21] assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus.

Colossians 1:4-5 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which you have for all the saints, [5] because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel

1 Thessalonians 5:2 For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. [Lk 12:39]

He demonstrates almost exact familiarity with either a Gospel or a tradition that was behind the story of the Gospels:

Acts 13:24-25 Before his coming John had preached a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. [Mk 1:4; Lk 3:3] [25] And as John was finishing his course, he said, `What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. [Jn 1:21] No, but after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’ [Mt 3:11; Mk 1:7; Jn 1:15, 30] (cf. Acts 19:4)

Romans 2:1 . . . when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. [Mt 7:1-2; Lk 6:37]

Romans 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. [Mt 5:44]

Romans 13:7 Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. [Mt 22:21; Mk 12:17; Lk 20:25]

1 Corinthians 11:23-25 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, [24] and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” [25] In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” [Lk 22:19-20]

1 Corinthians 15:36 . . . What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. [Jn 12:24]

Ephesians 5:8 for once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light [Jn 12:35-36] (cf. Lk 16:8; 1 Thess 5:4-5)

1 Thessalonians 1:7 and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, [Mt 25:31] (cf. 1 Thess 4:16-17)

He cites a tradition about Jesus that is not in the Gospels (but arguably is, by logical extension, in thought):

Acts 20:35 In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”

He cites something else that isn’t found in the Bible:

1 Corinthians 9:10 Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of a share in the crop.

Moreover, Luke (who many think wrote the Gospel bearing his name) was Paul’s companion and doctor (Col 4:14; 2 Tim 4:11; Phlm 1:24). And he was writing an account of many major events in Paul’s own life, in the book of Acts (see 1:1-5; cf. Lk 1:1-4). One can imagine Paul and Luke talking about how Luke had written or was to write the Gospel of Luke, and Paul saying, “you do the life of Jesus, and I’ll do the theology of Jesus.  The Spirit apportions to each one individually as he wills [1 Cor 12:11].”

Moreover, Mark (if he is regarded as the author of the Gospel of Mark) also traveled with Paul (Acts 12:25; 15:37; Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11; Phlm 1:24). One can easily imagine Paul having the same sorts of discussions with him, about who was writing what, as he may very well have had with Luke. In other words, he knew they had written or were to write the Gospels, and/or that they were well familiar with the oral traditions concerning Jesus; therefore, he need not do the same thing. Division of labor . . .

Paul was determined to do exactly what God had called him to do, such as, for example, his specific mission to the Gentiles, not the Jews (Acts 13:46; 18:6; Rom 11:13; 15:15-16; Gal 1:16). I contend, then, that (following the idea of his very specific, particular mission) Paul deliberately sought to write about Christology and the theology of Jesus, rather than specifically about His life (biography, or the story of salvation).

Paul of course has a lot to say about the importance of Jesus, especially the importance of his death and resurrection and his imminent return from heaven.

Exactly! And that’s because he was writing “the theology of Jesus” and not “the life of Jesus.”

We hear nothing here of the details of Jesus’ birth or parents or early life, nothing of his baptism or temptation in the wilderness, nothing of his teaching about the coming Kingdom of God; we have no indication that he ever told a parable, that he ever healed anyone, cast out a demon, or raised the dead; we learn nothing of his transfiguration or triumphal entry, nothing of his cleansing of the Temple, nothing of his interrogation by the Sanhedrin or trial before Pilate, nothing of his being rejected in favor of Barabbas, of his being mocked, of his being flogged, etc. etc. etc.

This perfectly illustrates my argument. All of those things mentioned just happen to be (by the merest of coincidences!) in the four Gospels. That’s why Ehrman knew about them in the first place. Yet Ehrman finds it odd that Paul deliberately chooses not to do the same thing a fifth time (!). I’ve always thought this was a very odd skeptical / atheist objection.

But he does at least stumble into the most feasible explanation in his sentence before the above paragraph: “Imagine what we wouldn’t know about Jesus if these letters were our only sources of information.” That’s right. I agree! But since that’s not the case, it’s rather a moot point, isn’t it? Why bother with this at all? Why does the question even come up?

The historian who wants to know about the traditions concerning Jesus — or indeed, about the historical Jesus himself — will not be much helped by the surviving letters of Paul.

That’s correct, but it’s not a problem. The Christian and the theologian or historian interested in the history of theology and/or ideas or the sociologist of religion will find Paul’s letters crucial and immensely helpful; indispensable, because this was Paul’s purpose.

But what are we to make of this?

Nothing. It’s a non sequitur.

Why does Paul not remind his congregations of what Jesus said and did?

Because there was no need to.

Does he think that these things are unimportant?


Does he think that they are irrelevant?


Does he assume that his readers already know them?

Yes. Or if they didn’t already, they would soon, once the Gospels were all in their final forms, in writing, for posterity.

Does he know them?

Yes, just like all the other Christians.

How could he not know? 


Ehrman mulls over an “option one” in trying to understand this state of affairs: “we might conclude that Paul never mentioned these traditions in his letters because he knew that his converts already knew them.”

Yep. This is the answer, but Ehrman (who knows why?) finds it unsatisfactory.

[O]n occasion — relatively rare occasions, to be sure — Paul does use one of the traditions about Jesus in order to convince his converts of a necessary course of action. . . . If Paul was demonstrably inclined to use the traditions about Jesus in this way, why does he not do so more often? 

Because it was an exception to the “rule” of his methodology and purpose. Arguing by the “what ifs” and “why didn’t x say / do y?” is not a compelling or persuasive method at all. It carries very little force. We can do this all day, about anyone (including God), but what would it accomplish? Exactly nothing.

It might be a fun, stimulating exercise in imagination, thought experiment, and hypothetical speculation, but it has nothing to do with Paul’s purpose at hand. And this is habitually the problem with the analyses of skeptics like Ehrman. They are mostly subjective mush and have about as much force as an argument that vanilla ice cream is superior to chocolate (to which I reply, “well, it is on pie . . .”).

The problem with this first option is that Paul had lots of occasions to mention traditions about Jesus to buttress his views, but scarcely ever took the opportunity.

If you don’t need to do something that’s already been done, you don’t need to. A=a. The question to ask first is, “was it necessary or required?”, not, “why didn’t he do it, when he had every chance to do so?!”

Option Two: Paul knew more of the traditions of Jesus, but considered them irrelevant to his mission.

They weren’t irrelevant to his overall mission (he assumes them as a package of understood premises or presuppositions that he is now building upon); only to what he chose to write about.

Why would he choose not to?

Because it was already done and known.

If this in fact was Paul’s view, then he didn’t cite the words and deeds of Jesus simply because he didn’t think that they were important.

That doesn’t follow. One need not repeat things ad infinitum. There is a point where it simply isn’t necessary. Ehrman’s agonized, bewildered ponderings as to why this is would only make sense, I respectfully submit, if there were no Gospels or no oral “Gospel tradition” at the time Paul wrote his letters.

Option Three: Paul didn’t mention more about Jesus’ words and deeds because he didn’t know very much more.

This is where atheists and skeptics typically engage in wild flights of fancy and fantasy and fairy tales. We need not concern ourselves with this at all because it is completely subjective reasoning, that can’t even be rationally, objectively discussed.

He never inquired further into the things Jesus said and did, and possibly never even thought about inquiring further, because he simply wasn’t interested.

Right. Simply ludicrous . . .

I’m afraid that I must leave this dilemma for you to resolve.

I gave it my best shot! As always, I have great trust and confidence in my readers, to be able to critically discern which of the stated views make the most rational sense and which is the most plausible.


Practical Matters: Perhaps some of my 4,000+ free online articles (the most comprehensive “one-stop” Catholic apologetics site) or fifty books have helped you (by God’s grace) to decide to become Catholic or to return to the Church, or better understand some doctrines and why we believe them.

Or you may believe my work is worthy to support for the purpose of apologetics and evangelism in general. If so, please seriously consider a much-needed financial contribution. I’m always in need of more funds: especially monthly support. “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim 5:18, NKJV). 1 December 2021 was my 20th anniversary as a full-time Catholic apologist, and February 2022 marked the 25th anniversary of my blog.

PayPal donations are the easiest: just send to my email address: You’ll see the term “Catholic Used Book Service”, which is my old side-business. To learn about the different methods of contributing, including 100% tax deduction, etc., see my page: About Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong / Donation InformationThanks a million from the bottom of my heart!


Photo credit: The Preaching of St. Paul at Ephesus (1649), by Eustache Le Sueur (1616-1655) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Summary: Agnostic anti-theist writer Bart Ehrman wonders aloud about Paul’s “neglect” of the life of Jesus. I make the obvious point that the Gospels (and the oral tradition prior to their writing) already did this four times.

March 22, 2022

Bart Ehrman is one of the most well-known and influential critics of traditional Christianity and the inspired Bible (“anti-theists”) writing today. Formerly, in his own words, he was “a fundamentalist for maybe 6 years; a conservative evangelical but not extreme right wing for maybe 5 years more; and a fairly mainstream liberal Christian for about 25.” The primary reason he gives for having lost his faith is the problem of evil (a very serious topic I have dealt with many times). He stated on 3-18-22 in a comment on his blog: “I could no longer explain how there could be a God active in this world given all the pain and misery in it.” I don’t question his sincerity, good intentions, intellectual honesty, or his past status as a Christian; only various opinions which Christians must (in consistency) regard as erroneous.

Dr. Ehrman “received his PhD and MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary, where he studied textual criticism of the Bible, development of the New Testament canon and New Testament apocrypha under Bruce Metzger.” He has written 30 books, which have sold over two million copies and have been translated into 27 languages.

Ehrman explains that the purpose of his blog is “to disseminate scholarly knowledge of the New Testament and the earliest periods of the Christian church to a non-scholarly audience, . . . Every post is rooted in scholarship – not just my own but that of thousands of scholars who have worked for centuries on understanding the historical Jesus, the New Testament, and the origins of Christianity.” Well, the conclusions of scholars are only as good as the solidity and truthfulness of the premises by which they are operating.

This is one of a series of reply-papers, in which I will address many of his materials from the perspective of archaeology, history, and exegesis.


I am responding to his article, “Jesus and Paul: Are They on the Same Page?” (2-17-22). His words will be in blue.

I spent several posts explicating Paul’s understanding of his gospel, that by Christ’s death and resurrection a person is put into a restored relationship with God. He had several ways of explaining how it worked (the “judicial” model; the “participationist” model; and the other models I described). But in all of these ways, it was Jesus’ death and resurrection that mattered. It was not keeping the Jewish law. It was not knowing or following Jesus’ teaching. It was not Jesus’ miracles. It was not … anything else. It was Jesus’ death and resurrection. . . . 

Paul says something completely different.   Paul does not tell the person to follow the Law of God.  He tells him to “believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus and be baptized.”

Ehrman is here arguing as if he were a Protestant who believes in “faith alone”: a non-biblical and extra biblical tradition of men, and not the biblical teaching. He makes Paul out to be a “faith alone” zealot: as if he were no longer Jewish at all, and Jesus to be so “Jewish” in outlook that He scarcely offers any new developments in soteriology. Neither thing is true, of course, and they are quite consistent with each other: Jesus also teaches about faith (in Him) and Paul also teaches about observant faith and good works.

So the false dichotomy Ehrman tries to create in this regard is exactly that: false. It’s not “either/or” within Paul’s or Jesus’ teaching on salvation, and it’s not a dichotomy between them. Both teach about faith as a prerequisite of salvation and both teach about the necessity of good works for salvation. God’s grace is behind all of it.

First, here are no less than eighteen of Paul’s statements about salvation, which never mention Christ’s death and resurrection (which is indeed very important in his view and that of Jesus), and stress good works in the attainment of final salvation:

Romans 1:5 (RSV) through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith . . .

Romans 1:17 . . . as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.”

Romans 2:6-10, 13 For he will render to every man according to his works: [7] to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; [8] but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. [9] There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, [10] but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. . . . [13] For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

Romans 3:31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Romans 6:17, 19 . . . you . . . have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, . . . [19] . . . For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification.

Romans 10:16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel; . . .

Romans 13:13-14 let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. [14] But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Romans 16:26 . . . according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith 

1 Corinthians 9:24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.

1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me.

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.

Galatians 5:6-7 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love. You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?

Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Colossians 3:23-25 Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.

2 Thessalonians 1:8 inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

1 Timothy 6:18-19 They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.

2 Timothy 2:15, 21-22 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. . . . If any one purifies himself from what is ignoble, then he will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work. So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart.

Titus 1:16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their deeds; they are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good deed. (cf. 3:8, 14)

I then summarized in my previous post, the teaching of Jesus himself, about the coming Son of Man and the need to prepare by keeping the Law of God, as revealed in the Torah, as summarized in the commandments to love God above all else and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

Do these represent the same religion? . . . 

I am asking if the gospel that Paul preached is essentially the same or different from the message of Jesus. A very good case can be made, of course, that they are fundamentally different. . . . 

[A]t the end of the day, it sure seems to me that they had different understandings of “salvation.”   Jesus had an urgent message to deliver about the coming kingdom of God to be brought by the Son of Man for those who were obedient to God; and Paul had an urgent message to deliver about the return of Jesus for the “saved” – those who believed in Christ’s death and resurrection.

In a comment for this post (2–20-22), Ehrman claims that Jesus would have found Paul’s letters “completely bizarre.”

Ehrman is presenting only one side of Paul’s soteriological views and one side of Jesus’ views. That hardly gives us the whole picture. He has failed in not presenting the legal notion of “the whole truth.” Jesus surely does teach the importance of works. I myself have highlighted this, in my efforts to refute the false doctrine of salvation by faith alone. See:

Final Judgment & Works (Not Faith): 50 Passages [2-10-08]

Jesus vs. “Faith Alone” (Rich Young Ruler) [10-12-15]

But Jesus did not refrain from also highlighting (just as Paul did) that salvation came from belief in Him, and His death and resurrection on behalf of all mankind:

Matthew 10:22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.

Matthew 16:25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Mark 10:29-30 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, [30] who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (cf. Mt 19:29; Lk 18:30)

Luke 19:10 For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.

Luke 24:25-27 And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! [26] Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” [27] And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

John 3:36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.

John 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

John 6:27-29 “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal. Then said they to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ ”

John 6:35-36, 40, 47 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. [36] But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. . . . [40] For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” [47] Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.

John 7:38 He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, `Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'”

John 8:24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.

John 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,

John 12:32 and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.

John 12:46-47 I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. [47] If any one hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.

So yeah, the two sets of teachings do indeed represent “the same religion.” There is no clash or contradiction whatsoever.

It is important to notice what Jesus’ response is to how to have eternal life.  You have to keep the laws God laid out in the Torah.  And if you want to have treasures in heaven, you are to do even more than that – you are to give love totally to your (poor) neighbor.   That’s how one earns salvation.

It’s not true that it is a universal requirement (according to Jesus) for everyone to give all their money to the poor in order to be saved. That’s what was required of the rich young ruler, because he had made riches his idol. But nowhere is this made a prerequisite for anyone or everyone else. Ehrman simply reads the universality into a very particular situation. The point that Jesus made to His disciples after this encounter, was not that all had to give up everything, but that, rather, “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” and “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mk 10:23, 25).


Ehrman responded in his combox (3-23-22):

I’m not talking about Jesus as presented in the Gospel of John, but the historical Jesus — who never speaks about believing in his death and resurrection for salvation. And Paul certainly does not think that keeping the law will contribute to earning salvation — otherwise, as he says, “Christ died in vain.”

This is what Bible skeptics constantly do, and it is completely arbitrary and irrational. If they don’t personally care for a passage or group of related passages (if it doesn’t fit into their preconceived notions), they simply claim that they were made up and have no relation to actual history. He believes what he wants to believe (the will rather than the mind at that point). There is no way to rationally argue with this sort of utterly subjective fairy tale method of “exegesis.” Nothing objective exists in such a methodology. The only way we can object to it is to expose the methodology itself, as I just did.

If Ehrman agrees with a given biblical passage, he certainly has no objection to highlighting it as evidence for his overall disbelieving worldview. But if he doesn’t agree with it, he plays some variation of the game that we see above: it wasn’t really in the Bible or was modified by the nefarious orthodox Christians for their own ends. It’s conspiratorialism and mythmaking. This “enables” him or “justifies” him in thinking that he can dismiss with the wave of a hand all of the scriptural data that I brought to bear.

I continue to maintain that we have to analyze the Bible on its own terms. It is what it is (agree or disagree). The only way to determine if a biblical book is historically trustworthy (from a secular scientific perspective) is to examine it using secular and scientific criteria (archaeology and historiography). I have done this with the book of John. See: Gospel of John & Archaeology & History (17 Extrabiblical Verifications of the Gospel of John’s Historical Accuracy). Because of this demonstrated, tested accuracy, we can trust John to accurately report Jesus’ words (agree or disagree with those words).

It remains to be seen if Ehrman will seriously interact with my critiques, with an entire article, not just soundbites in combox replies. I’ve done six so far. Time will tell. He does seem like a nice and courteous man, as far as that goes. And that’s crucial these days, in seeking to engage in true, constructive dialogue.



Practical Matters: Perhaps some of my 4,000+ free online articles (the most comprehensive “one-stop” Catholic apologetics site) or fifty books have helped you (by God’s grace) to decide to become Catholic or to return to the Church, or better understand some doctrines and why we believe them.

Or you may believe my work is worthy to support for the purpose of apologetics and evangelism in general. If so, please seriously consider a much-needed financial contribution. I’m always in need of more funds: especially monthly support. “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim 5:18, NKJV). 1 December 2021 was my 20th anniversary as a full-time Catholic apologist, and February 2022 marked the 25th anniversary of my blog.

PayPal donations are the easiest: just send to my email address: You’ll see the term “Catholic Used Book Service”, which is my old side-business. To learn about the different methods of contributing, including 100% tax deduction, etc., see my page: About Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong / Donation InformationThanks a million from the bottom of my heart!


Photo credit: Christ in Gethsemane (1886), by Heinrich Hofmann (1824-1911) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Summary: Agnostic & anti-theist Bart Ehrman attempts to draw a false dichotomy: Jesus vs. Paul on Salvation. He does so by only presenting one side of the teachings of each.


March 19, 2022

With Emphasis on the Term “Son of God” Applied to Jesus in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and Its Implications

Bart Ehrman is one of the most well-known and influential critics of traditional Christianity and the inspired Bible (“anti-theists”) writing today. Formerly, in his own words, he was “a fundamentalist for maybe 6 years; a conservative evangelical but not extreme right wing for maybe 5 years more; and a fairly mainstream liberal Christian for about 25.” The primary reason he gives for having lost his faith is the problem of evil (a very serious topic I have dealt with many times). He stated on 3-18-22 in a comment on his blog: “I could no longer explain how there could be a God active in this world given all the pain and misery in it.” I don’t question his sincerity, good intentions, intellectual honesty, or his past status as a Christian; only various opinions which Christians must (in consistency) regard as erroneous.

Dr. Ehrman “received his PhD and MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary, where he studied textual criticism of the Bible, development of the New Testament canon and New Testament apocrypha under Bruce Metzger.” He has written 30 books, which have sold over two million copies and have been translated into 27 languages.

Ehrman explains that the purpose of his blog is “to disseminate scholarly knowledge of the New Testament and the earliest periods of the Christian church to a non-scholarly audience, . . . Every post is rooted in scholarship – not just my own but that of thousands of scholars who have worked for centuries on understanding the historical Jesus, the New Testament, and the origins of Christianity.” Well, the conclusions of scholars are only as good as the solidity and truthfulness of the premises by which they are operating.

This is one of a series of reply-papers, in which I will address many of his materials from the perspective of archaeology, history, and exegesis.


I am responding to his article, “In What SENSE is Jesus “God” in Matthew, Mark, and Luke? My Change of Mind” (2-28-21). His words will be in blue.

There is nothing like these self-declarations of Jesus [in John] in the Synoptic Gospels. He does not go around talking about his divine character and pre-existent origin. In the older, traditional, terminology, the Synoptics present a “lower” Christology then the “high” Christology of John. And so, for many years, I argued that they did not see Jesus as God.

It still think it is true that the Synoptic Gospels do not portray Jesus as a pre-existent being who has become incarnate and is and always has been “equal” with God the way John does. They do not have an incarnational Christology lurking somewhere behind them. What they do have, however, is an exaltation Christology, in which either (a) Jesus was understood to have been exalted to a divine status at his baptism, as in Mark

Mark teaches no such thing. Here is the passage:

Mark 1:9-11 (RSV) In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. [10] And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; [11] and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”

God the Father simply stated (publicly) that Jesus was His Son; not that He became His Son (or divine). The latter elements are simply read into the text by skeptics; i.e., it is eisegesis, which means reading into a biblical text (from preconceived notions) what isn’t there. If it were actually in the passage, it would read something like, “Thou art now my beloved Son” or “Thou hast now become my beloved Son”. That’s what it would look like, if this heretical notion were actually taught in the passage.

and the original form of Luke (which began with ch. 3, before chs. 1-2 were tacked on in a second edition);

This is the same erroneous eisegesis applied to Luke. And of course, Ehrman has no actual evidence to suggest that Luke used to begin with its present chapter 3. As with virtually all of the speculation about why the Gospel writers wrote what they did; their motivations and methodologies, it’s all sheer speculation and mere purely subjective fairy tales devised in skeptical and atheist brains, with no evidence whatsoever able to be set forth as the reason for why they think as they do.

They want to believe in these mythical goings-on, and so they do. It’s as simple as that. It’s not a rational process. It’s a mythical, fairy-tale process, borne in existing skepticism and cynicism. Simply because they spout these myths about the Evangelists is no evidence or reason for anyone else to believe in their fairy-tales and conspiratorial fantasies.

or (b) Jesus came into existence as the Son of God because God was the one who made his mother pregnant, as in the second edition of Luke that started with chs. 1-2 and probably in the Gospel of Matthew.

It stands to reason that if God the Father is uniquely your Father, that you are the Son of God. This is biblical teaching. But “Son of God” in the Jewish mind at the time also meant “making yourself God” (Jn 10:33).” “Son of God” (referring to Jesus) appears 16 times in the Synoptic Gospels.  It’s applied to Jesus even by the devil (Mt 4:3, 6; Lk 4:3, 9), demons (Mt 8:29; Mk 3:11; Lk 4:41), (rhetorically and provocatively) by the high priest (Mt 26:63), and by mockers when He was dying (Mt 27:40, 43).

Followers worshiped Jesus and said “Truly you are the Son of God” (Mt 14:33; cf. Jn 1:49-50; 11:27) and He didn’t reject this at all (as He certainly would have if He didn’t believe Himself to be that). The high priest said, “tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Mt 26:63; cf. Jn 11:27; 20:31), which proves that the Jews connected “Son of God” with the Messiah (“Christ” being Greek for “Messiah”). Luke 4:41 also notes that demons “knew that he was the Christ.”

It’s true that John elaborates further about “Son of God”, but the same essential elements are already present in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Jesus expressly refers the term to Himself in John 5:25; 10:36; 11:4. But He had already accepted the title as addressed to Him (Mt 14:33), which is logically the same thing. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus, under direct questioning of the high priest, claims to be the Son of God, the Messiah, and the Son of man, all-in-one:

Mark 14:61-62 . . . Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” [62] And Jesus said, “I am; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (“I am” in the parallel passages is rendered as “You have said so”: Mt 26:64, and “You say that I am”: Lk 22:70; meaning, basically, “yes: you have stated it correctly”; also, Jesus said, along the same lines, “If I tell you, you will not believe”: Lk 22:67)

The reaction of the high priest and the Pharisees, Sanhedrin, etc., after Jesus asserted that He was the Son of God  / Son of man, and the Messiah was “He has uttered blasphemy” (Mt 26:65), “He deserves death” (Mt 26:66), “‘You have heard his blasphemy. . . .’ And they all condemned him as deserving death” (Mk 14:64). All of this proves, of course, that He made the claims and that the hostile hearers knew exactly what He meant: that He was God in the flesh. They disbelieved it, so they immediately regarded it as the blasphemy of a liar and pretender. This was already the same dynamic that we also observe in John:

John 5:18 This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God.

John 10:30-36 I and the Father are one.” [31] The Jews took up stones again to stone him. [32] Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?” [33] The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we stone you but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God.” [34] Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? [35] If he called them gods to whom the word of God came (and scripture cannot be broken), [36] do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?”

So it is more explicitly presented in John, but all the essential elements are in the other three Gospels, too. Therefore, Ehrman is dead wrong to assert that they aren’t in the other three Gospels. And I’ve only just begun laying out all the evidence.

Being adopted or born as the Son of God was a different way of being divine from being a pre-existent divine being made flesh. But it was still a highly exalted state of existence, above the human. And Jesus is that in the Synoptics.

Nonsense; He is presented as fully God in the Synoptics. I have already proven this by what is seen above, but I have much more evidence left to show.

For years I had difficulty explaining features of the Synoptics that could be taken to point to his divinity in some sense. I certainly had explanations, but I was never completely satisfied with them.

What Ehrman accepted then and now is Arian heretical slop: not the Jesus of the New Testament. I can see how this would provide much dissatisfaction, because it isn’t what the biblical texts exhibit.

In these Gospels, for example, Jesus has the power to forgive sins, and he receives “worship.” These *can* be explained without thinking of Jesus as in any way divine, but it’s a little bit tricky, and at the end of the day, I think it’s easier to simply to say that these things are said of Jesus because the authors do think of him as in some sense and exalted divine being.

Only God can be worshiped in the fullest sense (adoration), and this is how Jesus is presented in the Synoptics; therefore, He is God; period. Forgiving sins in His own name, with His own power, is also something only God can do. More on this below.

this exaltation of Jesus at the end of his life came to be read back into his life, so that stories were told about him in which he appeared to be divine in some sense already before he died.

This is the subjective, fairy-tale game I noted above. There is no actual historical evidence for any of this (if there were, you can be sure that Ehrman et al would certainly point to it). Ehrman and those like him want to believe it, since they deny the divinity / Godhood of Jesus and the Holy Trinity, so they pretend that it was added later and fantasize that it was supposedly not in the Synoptic Gospels at first. There is no way to prove when whatever was supposedly “added later.” All we have are the texts as they are now, passed down in extremely numerous, early, reliable, and consistent manuscripts.

Now (having cited Ehrman and having given him his “say” on my own blog) I shall present the full evidence of the Godhood / deity / divinity of Jesus as the third Person of the Holy Trinity, in the Synoptic Gospels.

Direct Statements of Jesus’ Equality with God the Father

Matthew 4:7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” [the devil was tempting Jesus: 4:3, 5-6]

Matthew 13:15 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them. (cf. Mt 13:13-14 and Is 6:9-10) [Jesus is citing an Old Testament passage about God and applying it to Himself]

Judge of Mankind

Matthew 16:27 For the Son of man… will repay every man for what he has done. (cf. Rev 22:12; Ps 62:12; Is 40:10)

Matthew 25:32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, (cf. Ezek 34:17)

The Old Testament plainly taught that God was the judge of men:

1 Samuel 2:10 …The LORD will judge the ends of the earth… (cf. Gen 18:25; 1 Chr 16:33; Ps 7:11; 9:8; 96:10; Is 2:4; 33:22)

Psalm 50:6 The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge! (cf. 58:11; 67:4; 82:8; 94:2; Jer 11:20)

Ecclesiastes 12:14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (cf. 3:17; Ezek 18:30; 33:20; Joel 3:12)]

Zephaniah 1:14-15 The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter, the mighty man cries aloud there. [15] A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness,

Psalm 2:9 You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.

Psalm 110:5-6 The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. [6] He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.

Divine “I” 

Jesus teaches in His own authority (“I say to you”) in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:18-34, etc.), and many other passages. The prophets, in contrast, spoke as God’s messengers in the second person (“The Lord says…”). He often talks in a way in which only God could speak, and distinguishes Himself from the prophets (Mt 13:17). Perhaps the most striking example of this occurs in Matthew 23:

Matthew 23:34, 37 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes… [37] O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! (cf. Jud 6:8; 2 Ki 17:13; 2 Chr 24:19; Jer 7:25; 25:4; 26:5; 29:19; 35:15; 44:4; Hag 1:12; Zech 7:12)

Luke 13:34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! (cf. Mt 23:37; Dt 32:11-12; Ruth 2:12; Ps 36:7; 57:1; 63:7; 91:4)

Acceptance of Worship (Reserved for God Only)

Matthew 14:33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (cf. 8:2; 9:18; 15:25; 20:20)

Matthew 28:9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Hail!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. (cf. 28:17)

Mark 5:6 And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped him;

Mark 5:22 Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Ja’irus by name; and seeing him, he fell at his feet,

Mark 7:25 But immediately a woman, whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell down at his feet.

Mark 10:17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

God alone is to be worshiped (as Jesus Himself noted):

Exodus 34:14 (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), (cf. 20:3)

Deuteronomy 8:19 And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you this day that you shall surely perish. (cf. 11:16; 17:3; 29:26; 30:17; 1 Ki 9:6-9; Jer 16:11; 22:9; 25:6; Dan 3:28)

Luke 4:8 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” (cf. Mt 4:10)

Omniscient (All -Knowing)

Omniscience is implied (though not proven) in many passages that describe Jesus’ extraordinary knowledge; these are consistent with omniscience (Mt 9:4; 12:25; Mk 2:8; 14:13-15; Lk 5:22; 6:8; 9:47; 22:10-13).

Additionally, there are many other verses illustrating that Jesus knew the future perfectly, which is also consistent with, and suggestive of omniscience, though not a proof (Mt 12:40; 13:1; 16:21; 17:9, 11-12, 22-23; 20:18-19; 21:39; 24:2; 26:2, 12, 21, 31-34, 54; Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34; 14:9, 18, 27-30, 42, 49; Lk 9:22, 44; 11:30; 12:50; 17:25; 18:31-33; 22:15, 21-22, 32, 34, 37).

The Old Testament taught that God alone is omniscient:

1 Chronicles 28:9 …the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every plan and thought.… (cf. 1 Ki 8:39; 2 Chr 6:30; Ps 44:21; Is 66:18; Ezek 11:5; Mt 6:8; Lk 16:15)

Psalm 147:5 Great is our LORD, and abundant in power;  his understanding is beyond measure. (cf. Job 36:4; 37:16; Is 40:28; 46:10; 48:3)

Omnipresent (Present Everywhere)

Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

Matthew 28:20 “. . . I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

God alone is omnipresent:

1 Kings 8:27 But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain thee…. (cf. 2 Chr 2:6)

Psalm 139:7-8 Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? [8] If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!

Jeremiah 23:24 Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the LORD.

Forgives Sins in His Own Name

Mark 2:5, 10 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”… [10] …the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins… (cf. Mt 9:2-6; Lk 5:20-24)

Luke 7:47-48 “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” [48] And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

God alone can forgive sins in His own name:

Exodus 34:7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,… (cf. 2 Sam 12:13; 1 Ki 8:34; Dan 9:9; Mic 7:18)

Psalm 25:11 For thy name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great. (cf. 25:7, 18; 32:1-2, 5)

Psalm 51:9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. (cf. 65:3; 79:9; 85:2; 99:8; Is 1:18; 6:6; 44:22)

Psalm 103:12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (cf. 130:4)

Isaiah 43:25 I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (cf. 55:7)

Jeremiah 33:8 I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me. (cf. 31:34; Ezek 33:15-16)

Luke 5:21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this that speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only?” (cf. Mk 2:7)

Jesus Taught that the Messiah (“Christ”) — Which He Claimed to Be — is Lord (Kurios) and God

Matthew 22:43-45 He said to them, “How is it then that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, [44] ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I put thy enemies under thy feet’? [45] If David thus calls him Lord, how is he his son?” (cf. Mk 12:36-37; Lk 20:42-44)

Every time the New Testament refers to Jesus as Christ (including Jesus’ own declarations), it is declaring that He is the Messiah, since Christ is the Greek for the Hebrew Messiah:

Matthew 16:16-17, 20 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” [17] And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”… [20] Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. (cf. Mk 8:27-30; 9:41; Lk 4:41; 9:18-21; Jn 4:25-26)

See also Mt 1:16-18; 5:17; 11:2, 10; 21:42; 24:5, 23-24; 26:56, 68; 27:17, 22; Mk 3:11; 5:7; 13:21-22, 26; Lk 1:31-33; 2:11, 26; 4:20-21; 22:37; 23:2, 35, 39; 24:44.

Son of Man When Jesus calls Himself “the Son of Man” (e.g., Mt 10:23, 32-33; 19:28; 23:37 ff.; 24:47; Mk 2:19-20; 3:28-29; 8:31, 38; 9:9, 31; 10:33, 38; 14:21, 41; Lk 11:30; 12:8, 49-50; 17:24; 18:6, 8; 21:36; 22:27, 48), He is claiming to be the Messiah, since He is referring (especially in Mk 13:26; 14:62) to a well-known messianic passage:

Daniel 7:13-14 I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. [14] And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

In Mark 14:61-62, Jesus assumes that the Christ (Messiah) and the Son of Man are one and the same (Himself). Matthew 16:16-17 establishes the fact that the Messiah and “the Son of God” are identical as well.

Source of Eternal Words

Matthew 24:35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Compare to the Old Testament, referring to God:

Isaiah 40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever.

Angels of Whom?

Matthew 13:41 The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, (cf. 16:27; 24:31; Lk 15:10; Gen 28:12; 32:1; Lk 12:8-9)

Second Coming

Matthew 24:30 then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; (Mt 16:27; 26:64; Mk 14:62)

The Old Testament presents God coming in judgment in an identical way:

Isaiah 40:10 Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. (cf. 40:5; Ps 96:13; 98:9)

Isaiah 66:15-16 For behold, the LORD will come in fire, and his chariots like the stormwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. [16] For by fire will the LORD execute judgment, and by his sword, upon all flesh; and those slain by the LORD shall be many. (cf. 59:20; Joel 2:11; Zech 2:10)

Zechariah 9:14 Then the LORD will appear over them, and his arrow go forth like lightning; the Lord GOD will sound the trumpet, and march forth in the whirlwinds of the south.

Zechariah 12:10 …when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born.

Zechariah 14:3-5 Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. [4] On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley;… [5]…. Then the LORD your God will come, and all the holy ones with him.

Isaiah 11:4 …he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.

Daniel 7:13 I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.


Matthew 1:21 she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

Luke 2:11 for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Luke 19:10 [Jesus] For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost. (cf. Jn 10:9; 12:47

Only God can be the savior of mankind:

Isaiah 43:11 I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. (cf. 43:3; 45:15, 21; 49:26; 60:16, 63:8; Hos 13:4)

Luke 1:47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,


The evidence is overwhelming. See also my related paper: Deity of Jesus: Called Lord/Kurios & God/Theos [10-24-11]


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Photo credit: Christ Crowned with Thorns (c. 1633-1639), by Matthias Stom (fl. 1615-1649) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Summary: I prove through copious examples from Mark, Matthew, and Luke, that Jesus is God in the Synoptics, over against Bart Ehrman, who denies it on inadequate grounds.


March 18, 2022

Bart Ehrman is one of the most well-known and influential critics of traditional Christianity and the inspired Bible (“anti-theists”) writing today. Formerly, in his own words, he was “a fundamentalist for maybe 6 years; a conservative evangelical but not extreme right wing for maybe 5 years more; and a fairly mainstream liberal Christian for about 25.” The primary reason he gives for having lost his faith is the problem of evil (a very serious topic I have dealt with many times). He stated on 3-18-22 in a comment on his blog: “I could no longer explain how there could be a God active in this world given all the pain and misery in it.” I don’t question his sincerity, good intentions, intellectual honesty, or his past status as a Christian; only various opinions which Christians must (in consistency) regard as erroneous.

Dr. Ehrman “received his PhD and MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary, where he studied textual criticism of the Bible, development of the New Testament canon and New Testament apocrypha under Bruce Metzger.” He has written 30 books, which have sold over two million copies and have been translated into 27 languages.

Ehrman explains that the purpose of his blog is “to disseminate scholarly knowledge of the New Testament and the earliest periods of the Christian church to a non-scholarly audience, . . . Every post is rooted in scholarship – not just my own but that of thousands of scholars who have worked for centuries on understanding the historical Jesus, the New Testament, and the origins of Christianity.” Well, the conclusions of scholars are only as good as the solidity and truthfulness of the premises by which they are operating.

This is one of a series of reply-papers, in which I will address many of his materials from the perspective of archaeology, history, and exegesis.


I am responding to his article, “Biblical Anachronisms: The Philistines and Beersheba” (6-30-16). His words will be in blue.

[T]he historical Moses (if there was one) (which I doubt) could not have written parts of the Pentateuch (I don’t think he wrote any of the parts) (OK, since, among other things, I don’t think he existed) because of the mention of the people the “Philistines” and the city of Beersheba, neither of which existed in the thirteenth century BCE, when he must have lived, if he lived. 

Here is a case in which he is making two negative claims. In the case of the Philistines prior to c. 1200 BC, it’s a matter of them being known by a different name, but still in existence. In the case of Beersheba, Ehrman is right that it didn’t exist as a town or city in Moses’ time, but wrong about the Bible supposedly claiming that it did.

As so often with anti-theists (and I have interacted with many of the prominent ones online): they seem to be unfamiliar with the Christian (and often also archaeological / historiographical) replies to their claims, and simply parrot the prevailing supposedly certain “dogmas” of skeptical and theologically liberal academia. Both of these supposed “anachronisms” are rather easily answered.

Genesis 10:14 (RSV) Pathru’sim, Caslu’him (whence came the Philistines), and Caph’torim.

Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges comments on this passage:

The parenthetical clause within the brackets seems to be out of place. According to Deuteronomy 2:23, Jeremiah 47:4, Amos 9:7 the Philistines came out of Caphtor. Accordingly, we may conjecture the clause originally stood after the word “Caphtorim,” and has been accidentally transposed. On the other hand, this explanation seems so obvious, that some scholars consider that the clause “whence … the Philistines” is in its right place, but that the words “and Caphtorim” are only a gloss on the mention of “the Philistines.”

Deuteronomy 2:23 As for the Avvim, who lived in villages as far as Gaza, the Caph’torim, who came from Caphtor, destroyed them and settled in their stead.) [see more info. on the Avvim]

Jeremiah 47:4 . . . the LORD is destroying the Philistines, the remnant of the coastland of Caphtor.

Amos 9:7 . . . [God]: “Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir?

Josephus‘ Antiquities of the Jews, . . . placed them explicitly in Egypt . . . using extra-Biblical accounts [he] provides context for the migration from Caphtor to Philistia. He records that the Caphtorites were one of the Egyptian peoples whose cities were destroyed during the Ethiopic War. (Wikipedia, “Caphtor”)

Here is the passage in question:

Now all the children of Mesraim, being eight in number, possessed the country from Gaza to Egypt, though it retained the name of one only, the Philistim; for the Greeks call part of that country Palestine. As for the rest, Ludicim, and Enemim, and Labim, who alone inhabited in Libya, and called the country from himself, Nedim, and Phethrosim, and Chesloim, and Cephthorim, we know nothing of them besides their names; for the Ethiopic war, [*Antiq. b. ii. chap. x.] which we shall describe hereafter, was the cause that those cities were overthrown.

What Josephus calls the “Ethiopic War” occurred during the reign of Pharaoh Thutmose II (1493-1479 BC).

A location called Kaptar is mentioned in several texts of the Mari Tablets and is understood to be reference to Caphtor. An inscription dating to c. 1780-1760 BCE mentions a man from Caphtor (a-na Kap-ta-ra-i-im) who received tin from Mari [Syria]. Another Mari text from the same period mentions a Caphtorite weapon (kakku Kap-ta-ru-ú). Another records a Caphtorite object (ka-ta-pu-um Kap-ta-ru-ú) which had been sent by king Zimrilim of the same period [r. 1775-1761 BC], to king Shariya of Razama. A text in connection with Hammurabi [r. c. 1792-1750 BC] mentions Caphtorite (k[a-a]p-ta-ri-tum) fabric that was sent to Mesopotamia via Mari. An inventory thought to be from the same era as the previous texts mentions a Caphtorite vessel (GAL kap-ta-ri-tum) (probably a large jug or jar). (Wikipedia, ibid.)

Trude Dothan (d. 2016) received the coveted Israel Prize for archaeology in 1998, in recognition for her many years of excavating (at Deir el-Balah, Hazor and Qasile) and teaching (at Hebrew University, Princeton, New York University, Brown University and the University of California at Berkeley). One of the world’s leading authorities on the Philistines, Dothan is the author of The Philistines and Their Material Culture (Israel Exploration Society, 1982) and, with her husband, Moshe, of People of the Sea (Macmillan, 1992).”

She explains the well-accepted theory that the Philistines came originally from Crete, and thus reflected that background and the larger historical and cultural influence of the Mycenaean civilization of Greece (1600-1100 BC):

The homeland of the Philistines, Caphtor (Amos 9:7), is generally recognized by scholars as Crete, (although some believe Caphtor to be located in Cilicia in Asia Minor.)

In other Biblical references, the Philistines are synonymous with the Cherethites; that is Cretans (see Zephaniah 2:5 and Ezekiel 25:16). Various Biblical traditions suggest that the Caphtorim (or at least some of them) are to be identified with the Cherethites. Thus the Biblical sources seem to link the Philistines with a previous home in Crete. . . .

The detailed Biblical account of Goliath’s armor and weaponry is a vivid description of a Philistine warrior in full battle dress:

“And he had a helmet of brass upon his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail. … And he had greaves of brass upon his legs, and a target of brass between his shoulders. And the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and one bearing a shield went before him.” (1 Samuel 17:5–7)

Goliath’s dress and armour (bronze helmet, coat of mail, bronze greaves [leg guards], and javelin) as well as the duel between champions are all well-known features of Aegean arms and warfare. They clearly indicate Aegean traditions carried on by the Philistines. The 12th century Warriors’ Vase from Mycenae shows Mycenaean warriors very similarly equipped. . . .

The shapes and decorative motifs of Philistine pottery were a blend of four distinct ceramic styles: Mycenaean, Cypriot, Egyptian, and local Canaanite. The dominant traits in shape and almost all the decorative elements were derived from the Mycenaean repertoire, and, as we have said, point to the Aegean background of Philistine pottery Philistine shapes of Mycenaean origin include bell-shaped bowls, large kraters with elaborate decoration, stirrup jars for oils and unguents, and strainer-spout beer jugs; the latter no doubt served as centerpieces at many a Philistine party. A few of the many decorative motifs are stylized birds, spiral loops, concentric half-circles, and scale patterns. Although Philistine vessels were richly decorated with motifs taken from the Mycenaean repertoire, these motifs were rearranged and integrated with other influences to create the distinctive “signature” known as Philistine. . . .

Female pottery figurines also reflect Philistine cult origins and beliefs. The “Ashdoda” is the only complete example of a well-defined type that was common from the 12th to the eighth century B.C. The Ashdoda figure is probably a schematic representation of a female deity and throne. It is clearly related to a grouping known throughout the Greek mainland, Rhodes and Cyprus—a Mycenaean female figurine seated on a throne, sometimes holding a child. These Mycenaean figurines are thought to represent a mother goddess. . . .

Burial customs are generally a sensitive indicator of cultural affinities, and Philistine burial customs reflect the same fusion of Aegean background with Egyptian and local Canaanite elements that distinguishes every other aspect of their culture. (“What We Know About the Philistines”Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 1982)

Genesis 26:1 Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar, to Abim’elech king of the Philistines.

I believe that Moses lived from c. 1340 or 1330 BC to c. 1220 or 1210 BC (Late Bronze Age IIA and IIB, for the Near East), and that Abraham was born around 1880-1860 BC  (Middle Bronze Age I) at the latest: based on the conclusions of Egyptologist and archaeologist Kenneth A. Kitchen. This period was during the . In 1956, the eminent Israeli archaeologist  Yohanan Aharoni identified the Tel Haror site as the biblical Gerar. It’s located in the western Negev Desert of Israel, between Gaza and Beersheba, some 14 miles from the Mediterranean Sea. This is the ancient territory of the Philistines. Could it have been visited by Isaac, as the Bible states? Yes!

Israeli archaeologist Avner Raban (1937-2004) wrote a very educational article in 1991, entitled, “Minoan and Canaanite Harbours.” Aegaeum 7: 129-46. It has many tie-ins to our subject matter, and supports a notion that commerce may have been what brought the Philistines from Crete to Canaan (and to Egypt):

Cretan artifacts were found in [Egyptian] 12th dynasty [1991-1802 BC] sites in many places along the Nile Valley (such as Karun, Gahob, Abydos and even in the oasis of Harageh). Egyptian artifacts of that period were found at Cretan Middle Minoan [2100-1600 BC] context . . . Similar Middle Minoan II [1800-1700 BC] artifacts were found in Levantine trade centres such as Byblos [Lebanon], Ugarit [Syria] and even the inland Qatna [Syria] . . .

Sargon I [20th-19th c. BC] of Akkad (Agade) mentioned Crete (. . . the biblical Kaphtor) together with sources of metal ores from over the Mediterranean, already in the 24th century B.C.E. and a broken Akkadian cuneiform  inscription of around 1800 B.C.E. was found on the island of Kythera [island between the Greek mainland and Crete]. An early Babylonian cylinder seal of about the same period in Tholos B in Platanos, in the Messara Valley in Crete. (p. 144) [my bracketed material and links]

Australian archaeologist Robert Merrillees reports in his 2003 article, “The First Appearances of Kamares Ware in the Levant.” Egypt and the Levant 13: 127-42, on the discovery of a portion of a Minoan cup from around 1800 BC, that was found in Ashkelon, part of ancient Philistia, on the coast.

At Tel Kabri in present-day northwest Israel on the coast, are archaeological remains “containing one of the largest Middle Bronze Age (2,100–1,550 BCE) Canaanite palaces in Israel” (Wikipedia). The article continues:

Among the discoveries at the site by the two full-scale archaeological expeditions, two have attracted particular attention from the archaeological community. The first finding to come to international attention was the discovery of Minoan-style frescoes in the palace at Kabri. As of 2015, these are the only Minoan paintings ever discovered in Israel.


Cline, E. H.; Yasur-Landau, A.; Goshen, N. (2011). “New Fragments of Aegean-Style Painted Plaster from Tel Kabri, Israel”(PDF)American Journal of Archaeology15 (2)

Science Daily (7 December 2009). “Remains Of Minoan-Style Painting Discovered During Excavations Of Canaanite Palace”.

These have been dated by Cline et al to the 17th century BC (p. 245; Abstract).

No one needs to hold that these earlier Philistines from Crete were a great nation prior to the 12th century BC, when everyone believes they quickly became so. But archaeology suggests that there were enough of them present in the region, to be mentioned as such in the early Bible passages.

Nature (7-4-19) reports:

The Philistines appear repeatedly in the Bible, but their origins have long been mysterious. Now genetic evidence suggests that this ancient people trace some of their ancestry west all the way to Europe.

Choongwon Jeong and Johannes Krause at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, and their colleagues analysed the DNA of ten ancient people whose bones were found in Ashkelon, a Philistine city located in modern-day Israel. The DNA suggests an influx of people of European heritage into Ashkelon in the twelfth century BC. The individuals’ DNA shows similarities to that of ancient Cretans, but the team warns that it is impossible to specify the immigrants’ homeland because of the limited number of ancient genomes available for study.

The closest DNA match was Crete: about 43%. So once again, we see that archaeology has supported biblical accuracy. The Philistines (according to genetics) likely originated in Crete, just as the Bible stated in Genesis, Jeremiah, and Amos. And significant numbers of them were present in Egypt and Canaan before 1200 BC: again, precisely as the Bible states. See another more recent article about the genetic background of the Philistines: “The Philistines were Likely of Greek Origin, According to DNA” (Philip Chrysopoulos, Greek Reporter, July 31, 2021).

Note also that when the Bible mentions Isaac’s visit to the Philistine king Abim’elech ( Kitchen thinks he was born around 1850-1820 BC), no mention is made of the five famous cities of Philistia: Gaza, Ashdod, Ash’kelon, Gath, and Ekron (Joshua 13:3). They were much more important later. All that was mentioned was Gerar, which I have shown from archaeology was flourishing at that time. But if the Bible were so anachronistic, as charged, it seems like it would have mentioned them. Instead, it’s historically accurate.


The case of Beersheba is different, as briefly noted above. John J. Bimson, in his chapter, “Archaeological Data and the Dating of the Patriarchs”, in A.R. Millard & D.J. Wiseman, editors, Essays on the Patriarchal Narratives. Leicester: IVP, 1980. pp.59-92, provides a response to the skeptical argument:

Beersheba Tel Beersheba (Tell es-Seba’) completely lacks pre-Iron Age remains. It does not therefore bear on the question of whether the patriarchal narratives relate better to MB [Middle Bronze Age] I [2100-2000 BC] or MB II [2000-1550 BC]. . . .

[T]he references to Beersheba in the patriarchal narratives do not actually require a settlement on the site at the time in question. Sarna has argued thus in reply to Van Seters: ‘The biblical passages refer only to a well and a cultic site…. No king or ruler is mentioned, and no patriarch ever has dealings with the inhabitants of Beersheba. The only description of Beersheba as a “city” in the patriarchal narratives is a late editorial note (Gn. 26:33) which clearly has nothing to do with the narrative context, and which views the material through the eyes of a later age.'[109] In 1967, Aharoni held the view that the absence of early archaeological evidence does not contradict the patriarchal narratives, which, he then suggested, have only the area of Beersheba in mind, not a town.[110] . . . (pp. 75-76)


[109] N. M. Sarna, Biblical Archaeology Review 3/4, 1977, p.9.

[110] Yohanan Aharoni in Winton Thomas, (ed.), Archaeology and Old Testament Study (Clarendon, Oxford, 1967), p.389.

The biblical data appears perfectly consistent with this scenario (it was a nomadic encampment). Beersheba is mentioned eleven times in Genesis (RSV). None of the passages require the interpretation of even a town, let alone a city. The very first mention, in Abraham’s time (Gen 21:14) refers to “the wilderness of Beer-sheba.” As for Genesis 26:33 being a “late editorial note”, Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers (which was written in 1905; thus it is no polemics against “undesired” archaeological results) observed:

There was no city at this time at Beer-sheba, but one is mentioned at the conquest of Canaan by Joshua (Joshua 15:28). This note, as is the case generally with those which speak of a thing existing “unto this day,” was added by Ezra and the men of the Great Synagogue, after the return from Babylon (comp. Genesis 22:14); and its meaning is that, whereas Abraham’s name had been forgotten while the place lay desolate, this remarkable coincidence of the water being again found, just when the covenant had been confirmed by the customary sevenfold sacrifice, so impressed the minds of the people that the title of Beer-sheba never again passed into oblivion.

The Oxford Biblical Studies Online site (“Beersheba”) — drawing from The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Archaeology — verifies that no city existed at the site of Beersheba in Abraham’s time:
According to radiocarbon dating, the Chalcolithic settlement in Beersheba City dates to about 4200–4000 B.C.E. After its abandonment, human occupation returned to Beersheba City and Tel Shebaʾ only in the Iron Age.
The Iron Age in the Near East is the period of 1200-550 BC. Therefore, no city or even town or village was there during his lifetime, and as a result of that archaeologically determined information, the supposed “anachronism” vanishes. The biblical narrative during the time of Abraham doesn’t indicate a town or city of Beersheba in the first place; to the contrary, it describes it as a “wilderness”.
The terminology of “to this day”: implying a later addition to the text, is common in the Old Testament (86 appearances in RSV: most in this same sense). For example:
Genesis 35:20 and Jacob set up a pillar upon her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day.
Deuteronomy 34:6 and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-pe’or; but no man knows the place of his burial to this day.
Joshua 8:28 So Joshua burned Ai, and made it for ever a heap of ruins, as it is to this day.
2 Samuel 18:18 Now Ab’salom in his lifetime had taken and set up for himself the pillar which is in the King’s Valley, for he said, “I have no son to keep my name in remembrance”; he called the pillar after his own name, and it is called Ab’salom’s monument to this day.

This notion of the scribe Ezra (5th c. BC) making slight additions to the Bible is not an “after the fact” rationalization of alleged anachronisms, either, since, for example, Charles Buck’s Theological Dictionarypublished in 1802 referred to it (“Bible”):

Ezra made additions in several parts of the Bible, where any thing appeared necessary for illustrating, connecting, or completing the work; in which he appears to have been assisted by the same Spirit in which they were first written. Among such additions are to be reckoned the last chapter of Deuteronomy, wherein Moses seems to give an account of his own death and burial, and the succession of Joshua after him. To the same cause our learned author thinks are to be attributed many other interpolations in the Bible, . . .

See also the Jewish article, “Verses Added to the Torah at a Later Date: The Phenomenon and Its Ramifications (3)” by Rav Amnon Bazak (9-21-14), and “The Book That Changed: Narratives of Ezran Authorship as Late Antique Biblical Criticism”, by Rebecca Scharbach Wollenberg; Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 138, No. 1 (2019).

This dynamic of later editors would likely apply to references to the Philistines in the Pentateuch as well. By Ezra’s time, the Philistines were known by that name, whereas further back, during Moses and Abraham, they were known as Caphtorim.  Same people, same background, but with a different name at one point: which is not at all uncommon in history.


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Photo credit: David Giving Thanks to God After the Death of Goliath [the most famous Philistine], attributed to Charles Errard the Younger (1606-1689) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Summary: Influential Bible critic & anti-theist Bart Ehrman claims that the biblical text is anachronistic regarding Philistines, Beersheba, & much more. I refute these notions.

January 25, 2022

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He added in June 2017 in a combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.”

For over three years, we have had (shall we say) rather difficult relations, with mutual bannings (while I have replied to his posts 76 times: all as of yet unanswered), but when Bob moved to his new location online at the OnlySky super-site, he (surprisingly to me) decided to allow me to comment. As a conciliatory gesture in return, I removed his ban on my blog.  He even stated on 1-21-22 in the same combox thread, replying to me: “There are a few new posts here. (Or, if you haven’t been to my blog for a while, lots of new posts here.) Have at ’em. Let me know what you think.”

Delighted to oblige his wishes . . . Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, follow this link: “Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.


I am responding to Bob’s post entitled, “Problem of Evil: the Free Will defense” (1-24-22).

Why would God want to create robots, who have no free will and no free choice? It makes no sense. If indeed He exists and is a loving God and wants what is best for us (as Christians believe, and as the Bible teaches), He would want us to enjoy freedom and determining our own destinies: not just parroting His at every turn (because we must). It’s just common sense on a very basic level, I would say. If God exists, He clearly allows human free will; or else He doesn’t exist. To me, those are the only two viable choices.

Secondly, I always get a chuckle how human beings want to blame God for what they clearly are responsible for doing. Why is that? It’s particularly amusing when atheists go on and on and appear to be “angry” at a God they don’t even believe exists. If you don’t believe in Him, just go merrily on your way and let us Christians and other theists live our lives. But instead you offer us endless polemics.

Usually the Holocaust is brought up in these contexts. I commend you for not doing so! You bring up instead, COVID and 9/11. In all three cases, it is clearly the follies or evil of men that brought them about:

1. The Holocaust could easily have been entirely prevented by simply disallowing the German military build-up. Winston Churchill warned throughout much of the 1930s about this very thing, and was mocked and ignored. We allowed this mega-tragedy to happen; it’s our fault for allowing the Nazis to build up their arsenal, and theirs for taking the evil course they chose. Yet we somehow want to blame God for it. It’s absurd and outrageous in equal parts.

2. COVID, more and more evidence clearly shows, originated (I’m not saying by choice, in a conspiratorial way) in the Wuhan lab in China (which was actually funded and encouraged in its research by Dr. Fauci and other Americans). They were doing research on viruses — literally trying to create new ones — and as a result COVID came about, escaped the lab, and has devastated the world for now two years. How is that God’s fault? One could argue that these scientists were “playing God” and messing around with things at a biological level that they never should have done.

3. 9/11 also could have been prevented had President Bill Clinton killed Osama Bin-Laden when he had a golden opportunity to do so (the same thing that President Obama later did). He chose not to. And choices (like ideas) have consequences. Over 3,000 people died as a result. How is this God’s fault? Please explain that to me. Some Muslims decide to become extreme, fanatical, and evil, going against even their own religion, correctly understood, and that is God’s fault?

I have refuted the “God hardening hearts” bit long since.

“Free will” appears in the Bible exactly zero times. Not even the Bible supports the idea that free will is a big deal.

Really? To the contrary, the very phrase is present:

2 Corinthians 8:1-3 (RSV) We want you to know, brethren, about the grace of God which has been shown in the churches of Macedo’nia, [2] for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part. [3] For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will,

Philemon 1:14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will.

There is also the word “freely”: obviously used to convey the notion of free will / free action / choice:

Genesis 2:16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;

Deuteronomy 15:10 You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him; . . .

1 Chronicles 29:1, 17 Then the people rejoiced because these had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the LORD; David the king also rejoiced greatly. . . . [17] I know, my God, that thou triest the heart, and hast pleasure in uprightness; in the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen thy people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to thee.

Ezra 7:15 . . . silver and gold which the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel . . . (cf. 7:13; 1:6)

Someone else in the thread noted that “free will” wasn’t present in the KJV. It’s correct that the phrase is not in the 1611 KJV. Instead, at 2 Corinthians 8:3 it has “willing of themselves”: the same notion in different words, and at Philemon 1:14 it renders the concept as “that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly” (also, the same idea as “free will”).

Should anyone think that RSV is a rare translation, there are at least ten others that have the same for 2 Corinthians 8:3. But other renderings clearly express the same idea: “of their own accord”; “voluntarily”; “they wanted to”; “freely willing”; “willing to”; “willingness”, etc. [source one / source two]. Sixteen Bible translations have “free will” at Philemon 1:14, too [source].

The concept clearly and unarguably appears dozens of times in other ways in the Bible, as I have proven, above and below. You will get in trouble when you try to assert universal negatives (especially about the Bible, when with someone familiar with it). Here’s much more in the Bible, expressing the concept of free will, free choice, personal autonomy, voluntarism:

Deuteronomy 13:19 . . . I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live,

Joshua 24:15 . . . choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Job 34:4 Let us choose what is right; let us determine among ourselves what is good.

Proverbs 1:29 Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD,

Proverbs 3:31 Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways;

Isaiah 7:15-16 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. [16] For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

Isaiah 56:4 . . . the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant,

Psalm 86:5 For thou, O Lord, art good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on thee.

Isaiah 55:1 Ho, every one who thirsts, come to the waters; . . . (cf. 45:22; Joel 2:32)

Acts 2:21 And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (cf. Rom 10:13)

1 Timothy 2:3-4 . . . God our Savior, [4] who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

There are also the “if . . . then . . . ” conditional prophecies / warnings, which presuppose the free will of human beings to choose to obey God’s commands or to disobey them. It’s their choice.

Leviticus 26:3-4If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, [4] then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. [followed by more predicted blessings in 26:5-13]

Leviticus 26:14-16 “But if you will not hearken to me, and will not do all these commandments, [15] if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my ordinances, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, [16] I will do this to you: I will appoint over you sudden terror, consumption, and fever that waste the eyes and cause life to pine away. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it; [followed by more “curses” or calamities in 26:17-39]

Deuteronomy 11:27-28 the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you this day, [28] and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods which you have not known.

Deuteronomy 28:15 But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command you this day, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. [cf. Deut 13:17-18; 28:2, 9]

A few others in the thread cluelessly argued that the Bible supposedly portrays God as punishing folks for the sins of others; not their own. I answered that with one Bible passage:

Ezekiel 18:19-24 “Yet you say, `Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is lawful and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. [20] The soul that sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. [21] “But if a wicked man turns away from all his sins which he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. [22] None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness which he has done he shall live. [23] Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? [24] But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds which he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, he shall die.

Bob hasn’t yet replied. If he does, assuredly I will add it to this post and counter-respond. If you see nothing further here from him, then that means that he chose not to reply. I receive notice if someone responds to my posts on his blog, so I won’t miss it if he does.


2. Who cares whether covid was tweaked in a lab? Smallpox wasn’t. The Black Death wasn’t. God’s fault.

3. Yes, 9/11 was caused by people, but apparently that was insignificant when a 9/11’s worth of deaths happen daily due to covid, and anti-vaxxers aren’t moved by the comparison enough to get vaxxed. And natural disasters give plenty of examples where God did it.

[I replied by posting relevant sections of my article, “Problem of Evil: Treatise on the Most Serious Objection“: which was removed. See my Addendum below]

ADDENDUM: As of late Tuesday, 1-26-22, I am unable to comment on either Bob’s or Jonathan Pearce’s blogs (the two atheists I regularly interact with). I contacted the OnlySky people and am awaiting word, after about 14 hours of this frustration. My only guess is that the cause was one of my posts that was flagged. All that I can figure was “objectionable” to them about it, was that it had two links: to material that was a direct reply to a query (prior to that I had posted single links without a problem). So perhaps I am — irrationally — considered a “spammer” or troll and have to endure some sort of temporary (?) ban.

I’m not assuming nefarious or censorious motivations; only either an incompetent new system or one with the usual glitches and bugs (OnlySky commenced just in the last week). So it’s “wait and see” right now.

Just as I was writing this, Bob put up a snarky comment:

Let me know if Dave gets out of line (or more out of line, anyway). I’m trying to figure out how to see all the comments. So far, just those comments in reply to me come as email.

I signed up for email notification for Dave’s posts, and the first one was “Seidensticker’s Folly # a billion” and cancelled.

“Oh, yeah …” has sprung to mind several times in reading his comments.

Of course, the “Seidensticker Folly” series is in reply to his relentless anti-theist articles: something he requested me to do back in 2018 (and reiterated five days ago by writing to me on his blog, “lots of new posts here. Have at ’em. Let me know what you think.” I have now made 77 replies, with not a single peep in counter-reply back from him. I was hoping for better, since he let me comment on his site again. Apparently, it is the height of arrogance and insult to refer to his endless atheist shots at Christianity and the Bible as “folly.” I won’t even get into all the rank insults he regularly sends our way (and God’s way). But the harmless, tweaking word “folly” is the ultimate insult and proof that I am Attila the Hun!

Thus (most disappointingly), there continues to be not the slightest hint of an actual attempted dialogue from Bob. Hope springs eternal, though.


Practical Matters: Perhaps some of my 3,900+ free online articles (the most comprehensive “one-stop” Catholic apologetics site) or fifty books have helped you (by God’s grace) to decide to become Catholic or to return to the Church, or better understand some doctrines and why we believe them.

Or you may believe my work is worthy to support for the purpose of apologetics and evangelism in general. If so, please seriously consider a much-needed financial contribution. I’m always in need of more funds: especially monthly support. “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim 5:18, NKJV). 1 December 2021 was my 20th anniversary as a full-time Catholic apologist, and February 2022 marked the 25th anniversary of my blog.

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Photo credit: revzack (2-14-21) [public domain / Openclipart]


Summary: Influential atheist & anti-theist Bob Seidensticker claimed that “free will” wasn’t in the Bible. Not only is the phrase there, but also the concept, as I proved.

October 21, 2021

Atheist anti-theist Jonathan M. S. Pearce is the main writer on the blog, A Tippling Philosopher. His “About” page states: “Pearce is a philosopher, author, blogger, public speaker and teacher from Hampshire in the UK. He specialises in philosophy of religion, but likes to turn his hand to science, psychology, politics and anything involved in investigating reality.” His words will be in blue; words of fellow atheist John Loftus in green, and those of eric in purple.


Presently, I am responding to his article, “God Is Unfair – An Accident of History and Geography Syllogism” (10-21-21).

[I]f you were an Arab born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1996, you are incredibly unlikely to be a Hindu; indeed, it is almost certain that you will grow up being a Muslim. Likewise, you are unlikely to grow up with primal-indigenous beliefs of the Amazon growing up in a Lutheran community in Bible Belt USA. Parents, families, communities and societies so often define who we become and what we believe.

There are, and this is an indisputable fact, distinct concentrations of religions around the world. Christians may be concentrated in Europe, South and North America, and other pockets of colonial history. Islam prevails in the Middle East, North Africa, subcontinental India, and the islands of the Indian Ocean. Shintos primarily exist in Japan, Hindus in India and thereabouts.

The challenge for religionists is that most religions have it wrong. That is, religions are mutually exclusive. If I am a Muslim, I believe that the Muslim religion and revelation are correct, and a more accurate representation of reality than that which Jain believes (almost certainly) in India. And if access to heaven or hell, or nirvana, or whatever afterlife it is, or if access to God (whichever god this is), or if access to the fruits of belief in the correct god, depends upon believing in the correct god, then there is a lot on the line.

However, given the serious implications of belief, it seems rather bizarre that OmniGod would design, create and arrange the world (or allow the world to develop) in such a way that most people don’t rationally survey the smorgasbord of religious offerings and then, using logic and reason, assent to the correct one. Instead, they are overwhelmingly born into any given religion.

The belonging to a particular religion depends on where and when they were born.

And that might well be the component of their existence that informs the verdict of whether or not they access the good stuff or get condemned to the bad stuff. Perhaps for eternity.

It gets worse when you consider the vagaries of history. Imagine being born into Egyptian or Aboriginal Australian culture in 5,000 BCE, before the events of the Hebrew Bible or the Christian Bible (i.e., Old and New Testaments). Now imagine that Christianity is the one true religion. How is it fair, when one has no control over when and where one is born, that one is born into one of those contexts? The person would have absolutely no chance of being able to access the correct divine revelation upon which rests the reward of heaven or the punishment of hell.

Okay, now back to me again. (As opposed to me.)

What I meant to know is if this syllogism works, or could be improved. It’s informal, language-wise:

But with most versions of God as we understand them, and given religious exclusivity, the scenario presented in this argument is as follows:

(1) Our beliefs will define whether we get the good stuff or don’t (heaven, hell, loving union with God, etc.).

(2) Our beliefs (globally) are overwhelmingly defined by when and where we are born.

(3) From (1) and (2), whether we get the good stuff or not is overwhelmingly defined by when and where we are to be born.

(4) We have no control over when and where we are to be born.

(5) Most people are born into the “wrong” places, where beliefs prevail that preclude them from getting the good stuff.

(6) From (3) – (5), most people, overwhelmingly, have no control over whether they get the good stuff (reward) or not (punishment).

(7) It is unfair to be punished or rewarded for things over which we have no control.

(8) God, being ultimately powerful and responsible, has control over everything – when and where we are to be born, the entire world into which we are to be born, who is to be rewarded and punished, and how, etc.

(9) God designs and creates a world in which it knowingly allows most people to overwhelmingly have no control over the good stuff or not.

(10) From (5), (8) and (9), God designs and creates a world in which most people are punished and, overwhelmingly, have control over their punishment.

(11) From (7) – (10), therefore, God is unfair.


[the material below comes from combox exchanges]

Although being born into a particular religion may depend on where one is born, staying in that faith, or finding another is up to the individual, not his birthplace, or even his family.
So how can someone in an Amazon rainforest realistically do this? Don’t look at things from your projected Christocentric point of view. Remember, your system might be wrong and Shintoism might hold, instead.
By learning to read and at length think critically, by means of education, becoming familiar with the options of what one can believe, and making his or her own choice, rather than just automatically being what is surrounding him and her.****

The belonging to a particular religion depends on where and when they were born.

If we apply this analysis to you and I, we see that it fits far more in your case: with your atheist worldview. England is one of the most secularized and post-Christian societies in the world, with a population of atheists at or around 50% or so (what a wonderful place: my ancestral homeland!). Some 2% of Christians there go to church regularly (I’ve heard that more Catholics do so than Anglicans now).

So you have simply adopted the prevailing view around you (more atheists and agnostics than anything else), just as someone in the jungles in a primitive tribe grows up animist, or someone in lower western Michigan (my state) tends to be a Calvinist, or the New Englander tends to be very theologically liberal (lots of, e.g., Unitarians) or agnostic. We are what we eat.

In my case, on the other hand, I started out with what might be said to be the prevailing religious view in America: a nominal, vague Protestantism (in my family’s case, Methodist): not talked about much and merely a private, subjective affair (very typically sociologically “Methodist”). I stopped going to church regularly at ten years old and did not again do so till I was 22. That was not the norm at all in the US in the late 60s and 70s. Then I converted to evangelical Protestantism in 1977, which was indeed a sociological trend at that time, but still by no means the majority of the population.

Then I became a Catholic at age 32. That’s in no way the norm in the US, which is about 25% Catholic. Then if you break down Catholics to those (like myself) who attend Mass every week and believe all that the Church teaches (including all the dreaded sexual stuff), it’s probably 10-15% of Catholics and so 2.5-4% of the entire population.

That makes me quite the nonconformist, as I always have been in my life after age 10. I have the belief of between 1 out of 40 people and 1 in 25 folks in the US. If I am walking down the street in the downtown of a large city, I’d have to work very hard to find someone with my same general observant, “orthodox” Catholic beliefs. But I could easily find a religious nominalist or even agnostic within the first three or four people I talked to.

Therefore, it comes down to the individual: to education, ability to think critically and compare the relative plausibility and rationality of competing belief-systems and acting accordingly. We have both become educated, made those choices, and written in defense of our views. In that way we are alike,. But if we do your present analysis and look to see who is more similar to what surrounds him, it’s you, far and away.

It follows that your present analysis (the recycled “outsider test of faith”) casts your own choice of belief in question far more than it does in my case. How ironic, huh?


This [argument in the OP] is nothing new. You’re simply recycling (as you must know) Jittery John Loftus’ “Outsider Test of Faith” argument. I’ve refuted that twice (of course with no counter-reply from him, as usual; not even the volcanic explosion for which he is infamous):
Reply to Atheist John Loftus’ “Outsider Test of Faith” Series [9-30-07]
Loftus Atheist Error #4: The Outsider Test for Faith [9-5-19]*So what does the self-respecting atheist do when a Christian refutes their argument (or — to be more neutral, puts up something clearly plausible as a possible counter-explanation)? He or she ignores it, with or without the put-downs and insults, waits a few months, and repeats the same argument again, as if repetition is an indicator of the strength of an argument.
This is not the outsider test for faith, as far as I can tell.That argument is something like “looked at from an external perspective, Christianity makes little sense”This argument is more classically theological, and is better summarized as a version of “it is unfair to send people to hell for not believing in Jesus, when they had no practical way to believe in Jesus.”
Yeah, I’m taking what Loftus’ book discusses in the beginning in order to take it’s off into a problem of evil argument. Loftus, on the other hand, uses this same basis to express his otf [outsider test of faith] from there. But that is an epistemological argument. I’m glad you recognise this even if David didn’t…
It’s simply a variant. The original argument is obviously construed as reflecting on God and His alleged abominable “unfairness.” All you do is make that more explicit (Loftus eventually gets to blaming God, too, just like all good atheists do). It’s nothing new. Atheists see the problem of evil behind every rock and do all they can to ignore their own far more thorny “problem of good.”
Of course he blames god. Who else do you think has ultimate control of the universe and designed and created it knowingly?[responding to eric]

You need not take my word for it. Listen to John Loftus himself, from his book, Why I Became an Atheist (revised version, 2012, 536 pages):

His chapter 3 is entitled, “The Outsider Test for Faith” (pp. 64-78). Loftus summarizes this argument of his as follows:

(1) Rational people in distinct geographical locations around the globe overwhelmingly adopt and defend a wide diversity of religious faiths due to their upbringing and shared cultural heritage.

(2) [T]o an overwhelming degree, one’s religious faith is causally dependent upon cultural conditions.

From (1) and (2) it follows that:

(3) It is highly likely that any given adopted religious faith is false.

Given these odds we need a test, or an objective standard, to help us determine if our inherited religious faith is true, so I propose that:

4) The best and probably the only way to test one’s adopted religious faith is from the perspective of an outsider with the same level of skepticism one uses to evaluate other religious faiths.

. . . I’m not arguing that religious faiths are completely culturally relative and therefore all false because of religious diversity. I’m merely arguing that believers should be very skeptical of their faith because of these cultural factors. . . . (p. 65)

If you were born in Saudi Arabia you would be a Sunni Muslim right now. . . . If you were born in the first century BCE in Israel, you’d adhere to the Jewish faith, and if you were born in Europe in 1200 CE, you’d be a Roman Catholic.. . . In short, we are overwhelmingly products of our times. (p. 66)

At the very minimum, believers should be willing to subject their faith to rigorous scrutiny by reading many of the best-recognized critiques of it. For instance, Christians should be willing to read this book of mine and others I’ve published. (p. 68)

[T]hey can no longer start out by believing that the Bible is true . . . nor can they trust their own anecdotal religious experiences, since such experiences are had by people of all religious faiths who differ about the cognitive content learned as the result of these experiences. (pp. 68-69)

If after you have investigated your religious faith with the presumption of skepticism, you find that it passes intellectual muster, you can have your religious faith. It’s that simple. If not, abandon it. (p. 71)

I proceed to refute this in my two papers linked above. In my longer reply to Jonathan [in the combox; seen above], one can see (basically) how it is done. It applies just as much to atheists as it does to anyone else, and so the argument essentially reduces to a “wash.”

You literally don’t get it. My argument above is not an epistemological argument in that same way.
In the past, when you actually still argued point-by-point with me, you yourself asserted that saying God is “unfair” in your analyses, is essentially the same as saying that He doesn’t exist. You summarized your viewpoint twice, as follows:

(1) God is OmniGod (classical theism: -potent, -scient, -benevolent).

(2) Part of OmniGod’s necessary characteristics would be fairness.

(3) God desires humanity to believe in him and to enter into a loving relationship with him.

(4) Belief isn’t just blind faith and requires some basis in evidence for what is to be believed (e.g., the Bible, being able to touch Jesus, personal revelation etc.).

(5) This evidence is unevenly distributed amongst the population over time and place (i.e., from 0% to 99.9% – e.g., perhaps Thomas).

(6) Unfair distribution of evidence (over which God has sovereign control) is unfair and favours certain people.

(7) Therefore God is either unfair (not OmniGod) or does not exist.

And a more compact version:

1. God is fair (as part of OmniGod theism).
2. We live in a world where humans appear to not have “equality of access to God” (EOAG).
3. If God was to be fair, he would give every human identical EOAG.
4. To give every human identical EOAG, God would have to create some sort of homogenous world.
5. Homogenous worlds are in some sense less perfect/good/desirable than the sort of world we live in.
6. Therefore, there is some good reason (skeptical theism) – a greater good – that God has created a world where humans appear to not have EOAG.
7. (Or god does not exist or is not OmniGod.)

From: “It Turns out the Whole Unfairness of Evidence Apportioning Boils down to “Free Will” “ (3-21-21). I have dealt with this “unfairness” business at least six times in the last seven months:

Debate w Atheists: Doubting Thomas & an “Unfair” God [3-17-21]

Pearce’s Potshots #17: Doubting Thomas & an “Unfair” God [3-17-21]

Pearce’s Potshots #18: Doubting Thomas & Evidence [3-18-21]

Pearce’s Potshots #19: Doubting Thomas & a “Mean God” [3-19-21]

Debate w Atheists on the Allegedly “Unfair” & “Hidden” God [3-21-21]

Pearce’s Potshots #20: Unfair Meanie God & Unfree Will [5-7-21]

Saying god is [not] fair is saying the OmniGod doesn’t exist.

Exactly my point. You end by asserting “God is unfair” (one of your favorite mantras). Of course, you don’t believe God exists, so in effect you are saying, “this unfairness that results from the way things are is proof that God doesn’t exist in the first place, because by definition He is supposedly ‘fair’ and benevolent.” You don’t think there is an “unfair” God up there somewhere. You think God is nonexistent, and you provide as one evidence of that, the supposed massive unfairness of the way things are.

As usual, I go right to your presuppositions, like a good socratic.

I was grappling with philosopher Ted Drange, using a variant of the same argument, in 2003. He wrote a good capsule summary of his position:

It is not that atheism is obviously true, but that ANB [argument from non-belief] (which very few people know about) is obviously sound. The concept is so very simple: If God were to exist then he would want people to be aware of the gospel message (what his son did for them) and could cause them to be aware of it. But most people on our planet do not even believe the gospel message. Hence, God does not exist.


Atheist Argument From Non-Belief (vs. Dr. Ted Drange) [2-26-03]

Debate: Argument from Non-Belief (ANB) (vs. Steve Conifer) [2-26-03]

As usual you are already employing your increasingly frequent tactic of completely dismissing what I say without even grappling with it at all. In other words, you’re becoming more and more like Loftus, Seidensticker, and Madison every day. At least in the “old days” you would put up some kind of fight and counter-reply.

But to do so puts you in hot water with 90% of the commenters here and (I get it from the human perspective) you just don’t have the energy and will power to resist all that social pressure. It’s much easier to join in on the fun and play the game of “Armstrong [and by extension all Christian nonconformists posting here] is a clueless ignoramus who need not detain us even for five minutes.”

The argument in the OP is one big whopper. God judges based on what people know and what they do with that knowledge (see Romans 2 and other similar passages): not based on what they don’t know; supposedly punishing them for ignorance that they can’t help. This is simply atheist mythology. It plays well to the choir, but unfortunately for the argument it’s not Christian teaching. The only ones you could pin such a teaching on is the Calvinists, who are a tiny minority of Christianity now and always in the past (after they sprang into existence 1500 years after Christ).


All these arguments along these lines amount to the same thing: “God is an unfair meanie in fact; the Bible presents a fair, benevolent God; therefore the biblical God is a fairy tale, like leprechauns and unicorns.” In a broader sense, it’s merely an application of the good ol’ Problem of Evil (atheism’s favorite argument by far).

I think I show how the argument fails. I engaged in three long dialogues with Jonathan on this in the past. In charity, I’ll assume that’s why he isn’t engaging me now. But he generally doesn’t engage me at length anymore. I continue to engage his arguments.

I would say that reason and evidence (if only folks come across them and are willing to look for them) do clearly point to one true religion: Christianity. I’m not denying that at all. Atheists and radical secularists, Marxists, etc. do their best to suppress any such evidence by mocking and ignoring (processes that are literally constant on this forum and others like it) and even legally suppressing it, so it’s more difficult to get it out.

The difficulty (I agree it is one) is to account for large portions of the world who are not Christians and who have never heard the Christian saving Gospel of God becoming man and dying on our behalf, to make a way to go to heaven.

The biblical solution was for Christians to communicate the Gospel far and wide (the missionary impulse). We have miserably failed in that task and very few Christians are interested in doing that. Of course, God knew this would happen (that had been “Plan A” so to speak), and so He has a way (“Plan B”) that those who haven’t heard can also possibly be saved (therefore, He is “fair”).

Those who never heard the Gospel or learned of true Christianity (not the many counterfeit versions) are judged by what they truly know and how they act upon it. So, for example, if a person grasps and accepts the ethical precept of the Golden Rule, and consistently acts upon it, that counts for a great deal in God’s eyes, and He will respond accordingly and be merciful on Judgment Day.

On the other hand, Christians who know that and much more, and fail to act upon what they know; fail to love others, are — we have strong reason to believe, right from Jesus — in distinct danger of damnation. Just calling themselves Christian doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. In the Bible, the goal is always not just correct belief (orthodoxy) but also correct action based on those beliefs (orthopraxy).

Jonathan made it clear, by saying “Saying god is on fair is saying the OmniGod doesn’t exist” [I take it he meant “unfair” or “not fair” there].

Atheist arguments in the end always seek to disprove God’s existence; not to prove that He does exist, but is a terrible moron and a Beast (which would be the position of something like Satanism). Seeking to show He is “unfair” is simply a reductio ad absurdum technique, in order to seek to force the Christian to admit the alleged dilemma and give up belief in the benevolent God of Christian, biblical theism.


The outsider test for faith is not the problem of evil.

It’s asking whether a true outsider would derive Christianity from the evidence they see around them. Or would they derive Hinduism, or some
other religion. Do the facts of the world support the existence of souls that go on to heaven? Do they support the existence of souls that
reincarnate into other animals? Or do the facts not really support any soul hypothesis at all? Or do they support some other hypothesis?
That’s the outsider test.

It would be entirely possible for the world to be such a way that everyone, even aliens and other radical notions of ‘outsider’, agrees there is some entity behind it. In that case, entity-belief would pass the outsider test. And it wouldn’t matter how much evil or suffering there would be in the world, because they are two entirely different arguments.

And Loftus arguing both on different occasions doesn’t make them the same argument, any more than your argument for a localized flood is “simply a variant” on your argument that the Christmas star was Jupiter. Same person, different aspects but the same theology, two different arguments.

What you describe was indeed the first part of Jonathan’s argument in the OP.

The arguments differ in some secondary characteristics, but the bottom line (and that’s what I always focus on, as a socratic) is that God is unfair (itself a version of the Problem of Evil), which for the atheist is “evidence” that He doesn’t exist, just as Jonathan stated twice in one reply to me:

(7) Therefore God is either unfair (not OmniGod) or does not exist. . . .

7. (Or god does not exist or is not OmniGod.)


[replying to Joe DeCaro above] Atheists believe that:

1) God doesn’t exist, but that nevertheless,

2) they (at least the online anti-theist types like Jonathan) must be obsessed with Him 24-7 and become angry at how mean and terrible this non-entity supposedly is; how unjust the world with God, er, without God, is: so unfair and tyrannical.

Don’t try to make rational sense of it. It’s impossible. Their thoroughly inconsistent behavior gives them away every time.


As I said, the two [arguments: “outsider test of faith” and Jonathan’s current one] are not absolutely  identical. Much ado about nothing. They’re identical in the first part [which is what I was initially referring to] and then go off in different directions, like intersecting circles. Nearly all atheist arguments, however, have the goal of showing or at least heavily implying that God doesn’t exist. That’s my main focus: challenging the atheist as to the route they take to reach such a conclusion.


Photo credit: Darrenjsmith (1-30-11). Monks outside the temple at the Tibetan Buddhist monastery, Rato Dratsang, in India [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]


Summary: Atheist JMS Pearce regurgitates his “Unfair God” argument, which is a variant of the “outsider test of belief” & “argument from non-belief” (failed) atheist arguments.

July 10, 2021

Matthew 5:11-12 (RSV) Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. [12] Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Luke 6:26 Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

John 15:18-20 If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. [19] If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. [20] Remember the word that I said to you, `A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.

Jonathan MS Pearce’s blog, A Tippling Philosopher has no ostensible rules of conduct, so virtually anything goes, and it is open season on Christians. To be fair, Jonathan has at least feebly opined that he would like more civil discussion to occur in his environs (though he appears not to ever enforce such a notion). On 5-19-21 he wrote the post, “Another Comment Appeal” which included the following:

The comment threads here . . . could be more productive and civil.

I would like polite and civil discourse. . . .

Please please simply deal with the ideas and do no[t] attack the person. . . . we should be convincing people to our frame of mind. If they are not ready, attacking their personality forcefully and without civility will not work in our favour. . . .

[L]et’s ALL think about the way we interact, who we are appealing to, who we think our audience is, and why we say what we say in the way we say it.

I already responded to this on 5-20-21. I had documented a “feeding frenzy” against me on his blog in a post dated 3-18-21; also a wholesale massive attack that took place on fellow anti-theist atheist Bob Seidensticker’s blog, in August 2018.

Pearce has written several recent posts wholly in response to me, or predominantly so. This has brought out (as always) the long fangs and the slanderers in his comboxes. I would like to document just a small sampling of these (no more than 10%, if that) of some of the worst from three comment threads, underneath the articles Chiasms, Multiple Sources, Armstrong, and Chasms in Rationality (7-7-21), Debunking the Genesis Flood I (7-4-21): below the ten asterisks; also a few more (bonus) from Ruddy Flood Thing Again. And Armstrong. (7-3-21): underneath the ten plus signs.

Still wanna be an apologist, and particularly to atheists? This is what it’s like. In-between this constant avalanche of worthless insults, a good conversation here or there can be had. But any anti-theist atheist forum (at least any I have ever seen, and that is 24 years of constant interaction online as an apologist) will end up like this if you dare to disagree as a Christian, and especially if you dare to forbid such slander on your own blog, as I do, and (horror of horrors!) ban foul-mouthed, acidic folks. Then you will be lied about and attacked like you never have been in your life.


AtticusOSullivan you pathetic excuse for a human being.

no one gives enough of a s#@t about you to despise you, Dave.

Neko what Dave is saying is not Catholicism.

Can’t take the fundie out [of] the convert.

3lemenope you openly profess believing things as ridiculous as young earth creationism [never have in my life]

Nobody owes you anything but a snort and a laugh of derision.

Lark62 You are a disgusting, dishonest, contemptable [sic] flaming a%$&@#e.

. . . flaming hypocrite, given your consistent record of misrepresenting the words of others.

Beau Quilter Armstrong’s . . . perfectly happy to engage in all other prejudices.

John Grove You are a bigot, Dave.

Omnicrom You are really good at running away Dave . . . You make obnoxious, hypocritical tone arguments like nobody’s business.

JMallett Damn dude, seek professional help.

Freethinker your ignorance is bottomless, Dave


HairyEyedBombThrower More sleazy click farming, Dave? . . . You’re shameless.

. . . sniveling wretch who imputes to others your own worst qualities, a la Goebbels [a high-level Nazi]

You suppress anybody who disagrees with you [I suppress anyone on my blog, rather, who can’t bring themselves to be civil and non-insulting. Thus, dozens of anti-theist-type atheists have been banned on my blog. Not my problem]

WCB . . . dishonesty and unwillingness to debate fairly.

You won’t try to have a reasoned discussion with knowledgeable atheists because you lose those debates [see for yourself how well I fared in hundreds of such encounters]

We cannot expect reason, and rational, critical thinking from you.

Ignorant Amos You’re a liar.

You’re lying you shameless scumbag.

Neko You censor people who tell you the truth about yourself.

Beau Quilter We already knew you don’t “believe” in science. That much is obvious.

Omnicrom He’s been breaking the commandment against false witness for 25 years now.


BensNewlogin I think you are not very sincere . . . you’re calling your god a liar.

Clearly, Dave believes in astrology. And magic.

Omnicrom You lie all the time.

Neko he’s a vainglorious windbag, so to hell with him.


I said that I had left Jonathan’s forum and “moved on” in May, but alas, I got drawn in when he wrote several posts that I responded to, and he counter-responded to. At first I would simply post notice of my reply. But people would start responding, and I’d get drawn in again. It’s clear now, however, that the only wise and prudent course is to totally ignore these atheist forum cesspools of fanatical hatred against any and all Christians who dare to dissent and make arguments disbelieved by the Faithful Believer-Atheists.

The few who are capable of sustaining a rational, civil, non-insulting discussion (and there are some, however few; every rule has its exceptions) can always come to my blog, where we engage in normal discourse.

I had been even more definite about leaving a month before, on Jonathan’s page, writing:

You claimed that you were actually happy I commented here, so that it wouldn’t be an “echo chamber.” But after being the target of 9,614,376 insults (which don’t faze me at all and only embarrass those who make them), and becoming sick and tired of the endless verbal diarrhea and mud pie fights, I decided at length that I am through with this stinking cesspool of a “forum.”
Serious discussion across differing viewpoints (with only very rare exceptions) does not occur in the toxic environment that is present here and in every atheist forum I have ever seen in 24 years of active online participation.
Here and there, one can accidentally stumble across pockets of rationality and cordiality even in this noxious manure-laden mud field, but it’s so rare that it ain’t worth the trouble anymore: so I have decided. My patience with it (even though it is often a source of high comedy or comic relief) is now exhausted.
Things will proceed as they always have. . . . I’m through here.

Jonathan specifically asked a month after that for “polite and civil discourse” and urged his minions of rabid followers to “simply deal with the ideas and do not attack the person.” They do so, anyway, and (here’s the thing) he does nothing about it.

This time I need to go cold turkey and never visit these pathetic places again. I will likely keep critiquing Jonathan’s posts, (and potentially any public atheist post, if it is a topic worth devoting time to), but I won’t visit the toxic, noxious comboxes there anymore: not even to notify Jonathan — in courtesy — of a reply. Even then (if I merely do that) I get accused by several clowns of cynically, unethically “using” Jonathan to get more clicks on my blog (as we saw in at least one attack above).
This is a ridiculous assertion that I have dealt with before. Apart from the pitiful remuneration I get from pageviews, people on my blog don’t care all that much about atheism and its never-ending attacks on Christianity and Christians, and writing about it has never drawn big numbers to my page (or many at all). In other words, I have no self-interest in going to atheist forums and trying to rationally interact, and I get a ton of misery from the nattering nabobs who are nearly ubiquitous there. I go because I am trying to reach even the hardest and most hardened cases of non-believers (and silent observers who are everywhere as well).
In the end, there are other relevant Bible passages that would guide such a decision (after we gave it a shot):
Matthew 10:14 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. [14] And if any one will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.
2 Timothy 2:23 Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.
Titus 3:9 But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law, for they are unprofitable and futile.
As always, anyone is welcome to visit my blog and comment, provided they are civil and charitable and interested in dialogue, not merely preaching or condemning. I continue to meet the rare atheist or agnostic who is willing and able to do this, and when it happens, we have great discussions, such as my recent lengthy and thoroughly enjoyable exchange with “axelbeingcivil” on the problem of evil and “problem of good” [see part I and part II].
Photo credit: Jan Tik [Flickr / CC by 2.0 license]
Summary:  I expose the “manure-comments” that regularly occur on atheist Jonathan Pearce’s blog comboxes at my expense. He has denounced them, but the offenders never stop shoveling the . . .
June 12, 2021

Part II of “Pitch / Bitumen in Moses’ Egypt”

Anti-theist atheist Jonathan M. S. Pearce wrote the article, Exodus Sidebar: Refuting Armstrong’s “Refutation” on Pitch (but Oddly Not Sargon…) (6-11-21), to which I respond. He was replying to my older article, Pearce’s Potshots #29: No Pitch / Bitumen in Moses’ Egypt? (5-26-21)

His words will be in blue.


Oh David, David, David.

David “I love science as much as any atheist” Armstrong

Yes I do. It’s been one of my favorite things for over fifty years, back when I was following the NASA space launches with avid interest. For many years as a kid, I thought I would grow up to be an archaeologist (so I love doing “amateur archaeology” and reporting on the scholars’ findings in defending the Bible).

You see that as a mocking opportunity. I see it as common and fertile ground for constructive discussion, with the few atheists who are willing to engage in normal discussion about the usual issues. Should I call you Jonathan “I love to encourage on my blog insults towards Christians as much as any atheist” Pearce, since that is manifestly true? But you can’t prove that I do not love science.

It’s much of what I have been writing about lately, after five straight archaeological replies to another atheist Bible skeptic named Adam Lee (and likely many more to come). I’ve rarely enjoyed myself so much in my forty years of Christian apologetics. It’s exciting to see the Bible confirmed again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again (I’ll stop for brevity’s sake) by secular archaeology.

likes to see himself as the white knight, tackling my “screeds” articles and refuting them. Except, this is rarely what actually happens. He recently claimed to have refuted me on camels but after further inspection, er, hadn’t.

Whether I refuted you many times is for readers to decide. I think it kind of / sort of suggests that I have done so several times, in light of the fact that you haven’t responded at all to probably fifteen of my critiques. It took three times mentioning this “pitch” issue (an entire paper and two mentions, after you threw out the same tired claim that I already refuted) to get you to actually grapple with a serious counter-claim. It’s progress, but there is a lot more left to go. I offered no less than six replies to claims in just one of your articles:

I also wrote a similar archaeology-based reply (thus far ignored) to an earlier related paper of yours about the Exodus: Pearce’s Potshots #33: No Philistines in Moses’ Time? [6-3-21]. You were notified of all of them on your blog.
All (save one, now) have been ignored. But now you have finally decided to tackle the pitch issue and the archaeology we can find about that. I commended you for it today in your combox, saying, “Bravo!” Now let’s see what argument you can come up with (in-between all the potshots).


I wrote a 2500-word piece on this that included the 250-word section at the end on whether pitch was available contemporaneously in the Nile region at the time. This was an additional nugget to my piece, but not the main thrust at all.

What I responded to with my “pitch” refutation was your article, “Debunking the Exodus II: A Ridiculous Story with Ridiculous Claims” (5-19-21). It was not devoted solely to Sargon: who was mentioned in only one section. It was a laundry list of all the supposedly “ridiculous claims” regarding the Exodus. You included 21 bullet-points. I dealt with six at length, in as many reply-papers (listed near the top). I chose to write about (as one of my six reply-topics) pitch: mentioned in your potshot about Moses’ birth, precisely because it was a concrete issue which could be objectively considered by means of archaeological analysis.

This is what you don’t understand about what I’m doing. It’s a deliberate methodological strategy, so to speak. Wrangling about subjective matters with atheists rarely accomplishes anything, though I do discuss the problem of evil (as I did again this very day) and other non-scientific topics with them occasionally, because the former is a serious objection and deserves — even demands — to be dealt with. But by and large I want to deal with specific objective matters that can be addressed by archaeology or other forms of science, by a method Christians and atheist both accept.

As I explained to someone recently: I’m not trying to prove biblical inspiration. That’s several steps down the line and a much more involved and complex argument. What I’m doing is “defeating the defeaters” offered up by atheists. If they argue that such a town wasn’t in existence when the Bible said it was, then I go to archaeology and prove that it was.

I have done this recently with regard to the Edomites in the Late Bronze Age in Jordan, whether Beersheba was a city when Abraham visited it (in this case it wasn’t, and the claim that the Bible claimed it was, is incorrect), whether Arameans derived from the Amorites, and details of the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers: all utilizing massive archaeological support. I did it with you, on this issue of pitch, the camels, and other things.

This defends the Bible’s accuracy. So I am showing that atheist arguments against biblical accuracy are almost invariably incorrect and fallacious. In other words, if an atheist says, “The Bible is inaccurate history and therefore, not inspired because of errors a, b, c, d, e, and f”, I go and show through secular archaeology that supposed errors a, b, c, d, e, and f are actually not errors and that it’s merely atheist mythology and polemics regarding the Bible. In doing so I also show how these matters can almost always be resolved in a way that is consistent with belief in biblical inspiration.

If the Bible is inspired, then it should and would be historically accurate and not self-contradictory as well. And so I deal with biblical archaeology and also (repeatedly and in-depth) alleged Bible contradictions (basically an internal textual issue). This was my overwhelming emphasis in my 72 unanswered and ignored refutations of atheist Bob Seidensticker and my 44 unanswered and ignored replies to David Madison. And I do mostly the same with you. You also saw it in my debates with one of your friends about the star of Bethlehem, which entailed all sorts of fascinating scientific elements. I had a blast doing that, and learned so much.

I described myself recently as a “termite”: eating away at all these atheist false premises, one-by-one, until one day the anti-theist atheist “house” collapses because the foundation was so weakened by the constant eating of the termite. So you and your minions can mock and ridicule my writing about pitch all you like. My rationale for it and other objective, historical issues that we can analyze through the means of scientific analysis is perfectly reasonable and logical, as explained.

You initiate your erroneous argument about pitch in Egypt with a guy who has a blog, who goes by only a nickname: about whom we can learn nothing further (by his non-existent profile). So we know nothing about his credentials, but hey: I’d bet the farm that he’s not an archaeologist. I cite actual archaeologists (!!!) when I make my argument about, well, archaeology. 

The same anonymous person thinks himself qualified to argue physics with Einstein. Very impressive. You’d read me the riot act if I tried to pull a stunt like that. The next article down delves into JFK conspiracy theories. His murderer was CIA director John McCome, dontcha know!: according to your source for pitch in ancient Egypt, “Straw Walker”. In a 2015 article he states dogmatically — massively against current cosmological consensus — that “Dark Matters [sic] does NOT exist.” In February 2014 he remarked: “The universe has existed and will exist forever” — except that the vast majority of cosmologists disagree, since they hold the Big Bang theory, which says that the universe had a finite beginning and will have an ending as well. 

Yeah, great source there, Jonathan. This is who you went to to support your view from “science.” It’s a joke, and embarrassing (especially given all your shots taken at me as if I am hostile to science). At least I cite scientists and studies from peer-reviewed journals when I am talking about a scientific issue.

Let’s remind ourselves of Moses’ supposed dates:

Generally Moses is seen as a legendary figure, whilst retaining the possibility that Moses or a Moses-like figure existed in the 13th century BCE.[11][12][13][14][15] Rabbinical Judaism calculated a lifespan of Moses corresponding to 1391–1271 BCE;[16]Jerome suggested 1592 BCE,[17]and James Ussher suggested 1571 BCE as his birth year.[18][note 2]

So somewhere between 2171-1571 BCE. (Already, Armstrong is outside of what people generally believe, but that us to be expected.)

And how is it that you arrived at this cynical conclusion? You pulled it out of a hat and then chided me for supposedly believing it. I swear I don’t know how you arrive at many of your conclusions. I made it quite clear in my reply, which cited the same information from my previous reply to you, what I thought regarding Moses’ birth and death dates:

Encyclopedia Britannica (“Moses”informs us that he “flourished 14th–13th century BCE”. . . . “the most probable date for the Exodus is about 1290 BCE.” Therefore, Moses’ birth was “probably . . . in the late 14th century BCE.” The latter is deduced from the Bible’s statement (Ex 7:7) that Moses was eighty in the year of the Exodus, which would makes his birthdate around 1370 BC, his death in 1250 BC . . . 

What part of “1370-1250 BC” is so difficult to comprehend? Is Encyclopedia Britannica “fundamentalist” too? Actual fundamentalists place Moses’ life 100-200 years before this. I reiterated again in the most recent article I wrote, posted yesterday: “I accept the life and death dates of Moses to be c. 1370-c. 1250 BC.”

You go on to make an analysis that seems to totally misunderstand what I was driving at. I see no sense in responding to it. It looks like you just rushed off this response with little thinking: just to “get Armstrong off my back.” You write:

None of this is about waterproofing. 

I didn’t say it was. I was documenting from archaeology that bitumen was used for mummification in Egypt, but only after a certain date (1250-1050 BC) which postdates Moses. Then at the end I wrote: “But of course, mummification was not the only use of pitch / bitumen in ancient Egypt. Therein lies the rub, and Pearce’s blatant error.”

The source relies a lot on radiocarbon dating and mass spectrometry – so I hope Armstrong and his supporters also defend its use in evolutionary theory, right?

Armstrong does! Because I am a theistic evolutionist, and have utilized the data of carbon dating in most if not all of my many recent articles about archaeology and the Bible. I did yesterday in my most recent article (go see!). What my “supporters” may believe on this and that is irrelevant to my own opinions.

This is a really important point: Armstrong’s case is built on science that creationists do not accept. So if you are a creationist lauding Armstrong’s case, you are being dishonest and employing double standards.

Then that’s their problem, isn’t it?: not mine. It has nothing to do with me. Most folks who follow my writing regularly are Catholics, and most Catholics are not creationists. But we all believe that God was the Creator. How He did that is a separate matter. This is just more obfuscation and silliness, to divert from the main topic at hand. But it is entertaining. I’ll give ya that.

So what of these mummies? Well, the Glasgow male mummy (MTB G44) does not fit into the timescale. . . . So Armstrong’s source actually supports my claim.

Mummies had absolutely nothing to do with my argument. That stuff was only a prelude to the data that (rather dramatically) supported pitch being in Egypt during Moses’ lifetime. 

So his claim of my “blatant error” is blatantly erroneous.

Not at all. I was referring to your error of saying that pitch wasn’t present in Egypt during Moses. The mummy stuff isn’t directly relevant to that because it was from after the time of Moses. The relevant portion came from later in the same article:

archaeological discoveries and chemical analyses have revealed molecular evidence for trade during the earlier Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age periods (3900–2200 BC; [12]).

Or is it?

Armstrong’s second piece [3], however, is a better defence of his position, although he only quotes the abstract. I have read the piece. 

Ah; now I have found the entire article for free, too. And I’m delighted that I did, because now my case is that much stronger. You do your best to minimize the compelling evidences found in the entire research article, by means of summarizing without citing more than literally only thirteen words of it. But the evidence is too strong. I quote (all bolding mine):

This study demonstrates that detailed organic geochemical analysis permits the identification in Maadi excavations (3900-3500 BC) in Egypt of asphalt imported from the Dead Sea and enables the reconstruction of the bitumen trade routes within Canaan and to Egypt. (p. 2743)

Remember, folks, that I was responding to Jonathan’s bald statement: “pitch was not available in Egypt at the time of Moses.” Here, even the latest date is 2130 years before the approximate date of Moses’ birth. This is a pretty spectacular mistake on Jonathan’s part (not only being wrong about its presence, but wrong about up to 2130 years or more of its presence; and as we shall see soon, he resolutely refuses to retract it in the face of this hard evidence.


Natural asphalts were widely used in the ancient world. Perhaps their earliest use was in making reed baskets impermeable to liquids. (p. 2743)

Well, ain’t that somethin’?! The first use mentioned is precisely the one in question: sealing reed baskets to waterproof them. The article couldn’t be any more relevant to our inquiry than it is.

Evidence for this was found in the preceramic Neolithic excavation of Gilgal, Israel, dating back to about 9000 BC (Connan and Nissenbaum, unpubl. data), and in the Neolithic excavation of Beidha (9000-6500 BC; KIRKBRIDE, 199 1 ), north of Petra in Jordan. (p. 2743)

AND the only actual example of bitumen caulking referenced in the paper is not actually in Egypt but in Samaria, Israel, in Gilgal.

This is incorrect, as anyone can see, above. There is also evidence from “Beidha, . . . north of Petra in Jordan”: the same use as the Moses story, from 7,630-5,130 years earlier. And the most well-known ancient Gilgal was near Jericho: not in Samaria at all: which was north of Jerusalem.

This would also accord with my claim: that “Israelite” biblical authors would be using their own cultural knowledge to project onto events that happened in Egypt!

It could also be that a practice that has been verified as in Israel from 7,630 years before Moses’ birth, had become common knowledge (several thousand years of use have a tendency to do that). After all, it was Israelites in question, who resided in Egypt. They still would have had knowledge of these things. It’s not rocket science to figure out that pitch could serve as caulk on a basket, anyway. Any smart, inquisitive 4-year-old child could figure that out within an hour.

Twice more on this same page, mention is made of using pitch  “to caulk boats” and “for waterproofing vessels.” The latter is described as a “major” use. We learn that asphalt was actually available in Egypt, too (so that it wouldn’t necessarily have to come from outside trade):

[A]sphalt is found in only a few localities in Egypt (in oil springs at Jebel Zeit, termed Mons Petrolius by the Romans, or in sandstones at Helwan, south of Cairo; . . . (p. 2744)

I won’t bother to figure out exactly where Moses was born, and how close it would be to these two sources, but they may not have been all that far away. I didn’t know this before I accessed the entire article, so I thank you for your intransigence. When atheists fight against hard scientific (or internal biblical) evidence, I dig in and find more, and my case becomes all the stronger. So keep it up! This is already two major new revelations from the article (specific use of pitch for reed baskets, and native asphalt in Egypt) in the first two pages.

See further archaeological verification for Gebel El Zeit (Jebel Zeit) as a source of bitumen in Egypt: from the western shore of the Gulf of Suez. Another article from Archaeometry (12-16-02) states:

Bitumen used as a preservative in ancient Egyptian mummies was previously thought to come only from the Dead Sea in Palestine. Other, closer sources of bitumen were investigated at Abu Durba and Gebel Zeit on the shores of Egypt’s Gulf of Suez. Bitumen from these localities and from five mummies was analysed using molecular biomarkers derived from gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. It was found that four of the mummies contained Dead Sea bitumen, and the fifth and oldest (900 bc) had bitumen from Gebel Zeit, thus providing the first evidence for the use of an indigenous source of bitumen in ancient Egypt.

Moreover, your goofy “source” who has no discernible credentials as an expert on archaeology or ancient Egypt, stated (and you cited a few days ago and again in this article of yours):

Contrary to Moses [sic] account, bitumen does not exist in the Nile river or the Nile delta. In Moses [sic] haste to plagiarize Sargon’s birth account he failed to realize that the Nile and the Euphrates have a different geology. A simple mistake, but with huge ramifications.

This is untrue, also, according to the article (written by real, not pseudo-scientists), since Helwan is “part of Greater Cairo, on the bank of the Nile, opposite the ruins of Memphis.” Those pesky facts! They’ll getcha every time!

Between 3900 and 3100 BC, the raw asphalts from the floating blocks of the Dead Sea exported to Egypt were not used there for mummification purposes. Embalming with conifer resins mixed with bitumens did not appear before the Fourth Dynasty, i.e., around 2600 BC (PECK, 1980; BUCAILLE, 1987). Consequently, the most likely utilization of bitumens during the earlier epoch would be for using glue to attach flint implements in sickles, as in Arad ( NISSENBAUM et al., 1984), or as a waterproofing agent to caulk baskets, as seen in Gilgal (9000 BC, Israel) and elsewhere (Beidha, Jordan; Mehrgahr, Pakistan; Susa, Iran; Tell el Oueili, Iraq, etc.). (pp. 2757-2758)

Thus, the “most likely” use of pitch in Egypt, 1730 to 2530 years before Moses was born, was “as a waterproofing agent to caulk baskets.” That’s a good confirmation of my argument once again, wouldn’t you agree, Jonathan? I fail to see what else I could find to make my argument any stronger than it already is. The article concludes:

Unfortunately, the utilization of the raw bitumen discovered in excavations cannot be discerned; but, most likely, uses for the raw bitumen are as a glue to fix flint implements to wooden handles and as a proofing agent for caulking baskets. (p. 2758)

This is scientific rigor: the desire not to go beyond the facts. Yet they can’t help (being inquisitive) at least speculating in passing about the uses, and when they do, they come up with two things: one of which is “caulking baskets”: a use already mentioned several times in the article.

But there is further compelling archaeological evidence closer to the time of Moses. Steve Vinson’s article, “Seafaring” [see link],  in Elizabeth Frood and Willeke Wendrich (editors), UCLA Encyclopedia of EgyptologyLos Angeles, 2009, stated (my bolding):

A fascinating letter, in Akkadian, from the court of Ramses II [1303-1213 BC; r. 1279-1213, which overlaps the life of Moses] speaks of an Egyptian ship that had been sent to the Hittites, evidently for the purpose of allowing Hittite shipwrights to copy it (Fabre 2004: 96). The only constructional details we get are that the ship apparently had internal framing (ribs), and that it was caulked with pitch (Pomey 2006: 240), a practice now paralleled archaeologically by a water-proofing agent observed on some planks salvaged from New Kingdom sea-going ships found at Marsa Gawasis [see link on that] (Ward and Zazzaro fc.; cf. Vinson 1996: 200 for the practice in Greco-Roman antiquity and one occurrence in Roman Egypt). Whether this was a traditionally constructed Egyptian hull, or a new-style hull based on Eastern Mediterranean/Aegean principles, is unknown.
Fabre, David 2004 Seafaring in ancient Egypt. London: Periplus.
Pomey, Patrice 2006 Le rôle du dessin dans la conception des navires antiques: À propos de deux textes akkadiens. In L’Apport de l’Égypte à l’histoire des techniques: Méthodes, chronologie et comparaisons, Bibliothèque d’étude 142, ed. Bernard Mathieu, Dimitri Meeks, and Myriam Wissa, pp. 239 – 252. Cairo: Institut français d’archéologie orientale.
Vinson, Steve 1996 Paktou/n and Pa,ktwsij as ship-construction terminology in Herodotus, Pollux, and documentary papyri. Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 113, pp. 197 – 204.
Ward, Cheryl, and Chiara Zazzaro 2007 Finds: Ship evidence. In Harbor of the pharaohs to the land of Punt: Archaeological investigations at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis, Egypt, 2001 – 2005, ed. Kathryn Bard, and Rodolfo Fattovich, pp. 135 – 153. Naples: Università degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”. fc. Evidence for Pharaonic seagoing ships at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis, Egypt. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.

The New Kingdom of Egypt is the period from 1570-1069 BC, which includes the entire lifetime of Moses.

[undaunted, Pearce was still claiming on 6-15-21: “They wouldn’t have the first clue that pitch wasn’t particularly available in Egypt, and there is no evidence it was used at all for caulking, during the supposed Moses time.”]

You conclude about me: with the utmost charity:

Wow, a lot of effort for little payoff. What have I learnt? That Armstrong is disingenuous, and that’s putting it mildly, in his claims about refuting me, employing cherry-picking, and even then not reading his sources correctly.

Let the reader decide!

Has his work made me change my mind? Broadly, no. I will concede this: there is a possibility pitch might have ended up in the Nile area in the time required and used for the purposes see out in Exodus. There is no positive evidence for this, only an inference from some raw material found once nearby, and then seemingly only as a rarity.

I have probably moved my probability analysis about 10%. So, thanks to Armstrong for making me more accurate. Was it worth it? You decide.

I have more than proven what I had to establish. Was pitch present in Egypt at the time of Moses? It was, according to archaeological research long before, by trade, and it was also available near Cairo, probably relatively close to where Moses was born.

Archaeology can’t prove absolutely everything: every minute particular. It operates in generalities. But for what it has shown us in this regard, everything fits perfectly in harmony with the biblical account of a basket of bulrushes being waterproofed by pitch and bitumen in c. 1370 BC. To put it another way, it’s very difficult for you to assert, in light of this: “pitch was not available in Egypt at the time of Moses”, and your conspiratorial, goofball “source” saying that “bitumen does not exist in the Nile river or the Nile delta” has also now been shown to be wrong.

But you won’t actually concede what is quite obvious (not to a Christian!), so you play this game of “10%” more probability, as if that proves that you are open-minded and accept scientific findings that just blew up the myth you constructed. You’re grasping at straws (no pun intended).

So, Dave – if you’re going to litter your pieces with grand (Danth’s Law-style) rhetorical flourishes, make sure your claims back them up.

Good advice; but of course it applies far more to you than to me in this instance.



Jonathan wrote in a related paper on 6-15-21:

The pitch thing is incredible in the technical sense – or more accurately “improbable”. But not in the Torah being constructed in a place that uses pitch and by a culture that uses pitch. Because it is only by doing modern archaeology that we have come to find this out. This isn’t modern palaeontologists finding a rabbit skeleton in the pre-Cambrian rock strata. This is ancient parochial people developing their own national identity, because they are in exile, and using ideas from the culture within which they are set.

My reply:

This is ingenious spinning and obfuscation, I’ll give you that. The pitch debate was as simple as can be. My two responses, with massive archaeological evidence presented, were a reply to 15 words of yours (written on 5-19-21): “pitch was not available in Egypt at the time of Moses, but was in Sumeria.”

These words were part of your effort to show that the Exodus was “ridiculous”: as were claims supporting it.

I have shown from secular archaeology (not biblical arguments) that it was available then and there. Case closed. Game, set, match. You can spin and obfuscate and say I am disingenuous and dishonest all you like, and ignore archaeological data. I definitively proved that case with as much archaeological evidence as is possible to muster.

We’re not gonna find a reed basket that says on it “this is the one that Moses floated in, in 1370 BC!” with residue of pitch. But even if we had, you’d find a way to avoid the evidence anyway.

An open-minded thinker who followed archaeological evidence, as some sort of objective criterion for determining various factual claims for antiquity, would concede the point and move on. But not you. That would mean conceding to a Christian and that can never happen. But as they say, “there’s always a first time . . .”

As I have said, whether pitch existed in Egypt in Moses’ time is not the foundation of your atheism, which can exist whether that is a fact or not. It would simply be one less argument you can use for the Exodus being so “ridiculous”: as you claim.


After I pointed out to him research from Vinson about boats in Egypt in Moses’ time caulked with pitch, Jonathan replied directly to it:

Even before I begin to look into this – again let me refer you to the claims of general pitch usage, and particularly in the Nile River basin. No evidence for caulking baskets (the nearest comes from Israel) or even gluing tools (again, Israel iirc); such use in Egypt, and then in our reference period and exact place, is inference only from some sparse evidence of raw pitch being found a few times about the whole nation – ie uncommonly.

Egyptian vessels generally didn’t need caulking because they were too light, or were caulked between planks with reeds. This we have a whole BUNCH of evidence for.

Now, because I am a skeptic, I check sources. Here is the quote from Ward & Zazarro (that returns no “pitch” results in the paper):

A 3–4 cm wide black coating along plank seams (T13, T14, T41) probably represents a waterproofing agent on the outer planking surface. The coating has not been analyzed chemically. No petroleum-like odour, such as bitumen might produce, was detected when a small fragment was burnt. In 2005–06, all Type 4 planks were acacia or sycomore; in 2006–07, Zazzaro and Claire Calcagno recorded a Type 4 plank of cedar, reworked from a Type 2 hullplank. Acacia and sycomore planks were less well preserved than the thicker Type 2 cedar examples. All examples excavated in 2005–06 had been recycled as ramps leading into the entrances to Cave 3 and Cave 4 (Fig. 1).

It absolutely does not support your claim in any way whatsoever. This is waterproofing with a different substance altogether. So the whole mention of New Kingdom and reference to Marsa Gawasis is irrelevant. They did not use pitch for caulking. I’m sure you went to the trouble of checking your own sources to verify this yourself, right?

Now let’s think about the boat mentioned by Pomey. This is fsr more nuanced. I will forgive you for not checking this source as it is in French. Bear in mind that he is sending a letter to the Hittites detailing what appears to be a NEW design and technology precisely because it had not been seen before (certainly by the neighbouring Hittites).

Luckily, I have a degree in French, so I’ll give the analysis tht proceeds the Akkadian letter a stab:

“…For the outside, the Pharaoh recommended using asphalt, that’s to say mineral pitch, in order to seal the hull so that the boats wouldn’t sink. [ie, this is new to them.] The interest in the last passage concerns sealing procedures highlighted by Dimitri Meeks. He notes, in effect, that the original character of the testimony appears unique for the Pharaonic era. [ie, that such suggestions are unique for this age.]”

So far, this looks pretty understandable. The Pharaoh advises the Hittites take on this new-fangled technology, not seen before, for caulking boats. This would also imply it was not being used to caulk baskets, because you can rest assured, the King’s navy would be using this tech before washerwomen or randos on the edge of the Nile who want to send their babies downstream. And it doesn’t look like it is actually widespread (or even occasionally used!) with the Egyptians since there is precisely zero evidence of it being used. From your previous source, we know that IF THEY DID caulk,. they would use alternative oils.

The next part I disagree with. I will include it (being honest with my sources), though I somewhat disagree with the analysis:

“He also deduces, rightfully, that the usage of pitch or bitumen for the sealing of seafaring ships hulls however had to be well-known to the Egyptians in order for it to be an object of recommendation by the Pharaoh.”

This should play into your hands. Except I would argue not. So Pomey agrees that this letter is asking the Hittites to copy this new tech, including pitch caulking, because it looks sensible, but Pomey then states (in reference to Meeks) that the Pharaoh must have well known about this already in order to recommend it. Well-known? Hardly, since next door have no idea about it, he is having to explain it, and there is no evidence of it being used in Egypt during this time. This looks like a pretty new tech to the Egyptians because ALL the evidence we have elsewhere is that they caulked between planks (if they did at all) with reeds and other wadding. I’m not even sure there is widespread contemporaneous use of the ribbing either, though I haven’t looked in detail. He is sharing a new thing, I would reason.

The whole point of the letter is to say “look what we’ve got- new fangled awesomeness! I recommend you copy it!” Which is the point of Pomey’s paper – about new ship design for the Egyptians.

Now, I am admittedly doing some inference myself here because we have to fill in the gaps. I definitely know this is new tech to the Hittites because that’s the whole point of the letter and why Rameses is explaining it. He literally explains what pitch does in his letter. Now, the Hittites are literally next door. Part of this letter is about, I presume, offering a fig leaf after the peace treaty they had just signed.

So I would conclude somewhat opposite to this paper, though using other inferences as well: knowing that there is no actual evidence that the Egyptians did widely use (or at all?) this technique themselves as we have no extant evidence of them doing so, though there IS evidence they waterproofed with a DIFFERENT natural oil substance. So perhaps they recognised the usefulness of pitch, but opted to use more locally available substitutes.

What have we learnt from this? Not a lot. We’re pretty much back to where we started. (6-15-21, in his combox)

I replied:

I see. So your argument runs as follows:

1. Pitch was indeed used for this Egyptian ship referenced by a Pharaoh in the general time of Moses. I don’t deny it.

2. But hey, it was a new practice at the time.

3. Because it’s new, it’s [Dave: somehow, in some alt-logic] not evidence that pitch was known and available and used in Egypt during this period.

4. Therefore, this admitted use of pitch in Egypt supports my initial claim: “pitch wasn’t particularly available in Egypt [Dave: it was, by trade and a few local spots, including in the Nile Delta], and there is no evidence it was used at all for caulking, during the supposed Moses time.”

5. And this proof of use of pitch that proves [Dave: doublethink!] there was no use of pitch for caulking at that time, certainly has no relevance to the outrageous impossibility of “washerwomen or randos on the edge of the Nile who want to send their babies downstream.”

I certainly can’t argue with that! But I can’t, of course, because it’s not logical or rational in the first place.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane, to recall how you have shifted your position on this, every time you have been proven wrong. First you wrote:

1. “pitch was not available in Egypt at the time of Moses” [what started this whole debate]

2. I showed that it was available long before Moses’ time, by trade and also in at least two spots in the country (which was expressly denied by your conspiracist kook anonymous “source”; endorsed by yourself), one right in the Nile Delta: in Helwan, which is “part of Greater Cairo, on the bank of the Nile, opposite the ruins of Memphis.”

3. Having been shown to be dead wrong, you then switched to saying it wasn’t in use at exactly the time of Moses, and not for caulking (which is a completely different claim: going from outright denial to now quibbling about times and uses of what was formerly denied altogether as being present, let alone used).

4. So I showed with the information we are now discussing that, yes, pitch was used precisely for caulking boats during the period of Moses, according to his dates that I accept from the Encyclopedia Britannica.

5. Faced with this horror of being proven wrong a second time about the same topic, you play the game of conceding the fact of the presence of pitch, but denying that it has any significance at all, because it was 1) “new”, and, anyway, 2) would never ever (in any conceivable universe) have been used to caulk / waterproof a reed basket by a woman putting her child in such a basket, in the Nile, because, well, “you can rest assured, the King’s navy would be using this tech before washerwomen or randos on the edge of the Nile who want to send their babies downstream.”

You concede that this evidence shows pitch being used for caulking boats in Moses’ Egypt, yet somehow simultaneously also assert: “there is precisely zero evidence of it being used.” This is doublethink and literally nonsense. It makes no sense because it’s viciously self-contradictory. But in your rush to defend the indefensible and defeat the “disingenuous” / “dishonest” Christian, who can never be right about anything, even this crazy irrational “thinking” will do.

It’s one of the most amazing displays of intransigence and absolute refusal to concede an error that I’ve ever seen, and I’m in a line of work where one observes such things regularly. (in his combox on 6-15-21)

Have you accepted your terrible use of sources in this discussion? (6-16-21)


Pearce tried to chip away at some of my sources (delving into highly technical textual disputes), in order to bolster his relentless skepticism, in a new paper. I found additional evidence (four different instances) of use of pitch in Egypt or (in the case of Nubia) an Egyptian-occupied area, during the lifetime of Moses:

“Bitumen from the Dead Sea in Early Iron Age Nubia”, Kate Fulcher, Rebecca Stacey & Neal Spencer, Scientific Reports,  5-20-20:


Bitumen has been identified for the first time in Egyptian occupied Nubia, from within the town of Amara West, occupied from around 1300 to 1050 BC. The bitumen can be sourced to the Dead Sea using biomarkers, evidencing a trade in this material from the eastern Mediterranean to Nubia in the New Kingdom or its immediate aftermath. Two different end uses for bitumen were determined at the site. Ground bitumen was identified in several paint palettes, and in one case can be shown to have been mixed with plant gum, which indicates the use of bitumen as a ground pigment. Bitumen was also identified as a component of a friable black solid excavated from a tomb, and a black substance applied to the surface of a painted and plastered coffin fragment. Both contained plant resin, indicating that this substance was probably applied as a ritual funerary liquid, a practice identified from this time period in Egypt. The use of this ritual, at a far remove from the royal Egyptian burial sites at Thebes, indicates the importance of this ritual as a component of the funeral, and the value attributed to the material components of the black liquid.


Black materials were excavated from different contexts in the pharaonic town of Amara West in Upper Nubia, dating from  around 1300 to 1050 BC  (19th–20th dynasties), and its cemeteries (1250–800 BC). The materials were of three types: black paints on ceramic sherds used as palettes; a black coating on a coffin plaster fragment; and a black friable material excavated from a tomb. . . .

Amara West lies between the Second and Third Nile Cataracts, in the heart of Nubia, a region that stretched from Aswan in southern Egypt southwards to the Sixth Nile Cataract (Fig. 1). This region was intermittently occupied by pharaonic Egypt in the third and second millennium BC; during the New Kingdom (c. 1548–1086 BC), pharaonic towns were founded to control and administer resource extraction. . . .

Molecular evidence for bitumen from the New Kingdom (pre-dating the Third Intermediate Period) [prior to 1070 BC] is limited to the black coating on the coffin of Henutmehyt [c. 1250 BC; the approximate death date of Moses] in the British Museum (EA48001)46 [see source], the balm of a mummified man from Thebes13, an identification of Dead Sea bitumen in a 19th Dynasty [1292-1189 BC, which overlaps the life of Moses] “mummy balm”12, and the presence of hopanes in the black coatings on an 18th Dynasty [1550-1292 BC, which overlaps the life of Moses] canopic chest and anthropoid coffin49. . . .


. . . Given that evidence for bitumen use in Egypt in the New Kingdom has previously been limited to a few individual samples from objects with poor provenance, this study provides proof for a much more extensive use than might have been suspected, with a secure archaeological context.

See also: “Pigments, incense, and bitumen from the New Kingdom town and cemetery on Sai Island in Nubia”, Kate Fulcher, Julia Budka, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Volume 33, October 2020.

See a further listing of articles (many on related topics) by Kate Fulcher.

Pearce responded with his usual cavalier, clueless dismissal: “This is entirely consonant with what we previously discussed of raw bitumen trade, and to do with mummy embalming. You are rehashing the same old stuff. These might even be the same specimens mentioned.” (6-16-21)

My reply:

You read very poorly (especially when you are determined to disagree with what you’re reading). None of the new evidence had to do with embalming.

You wrote: “Pitch appears not to have had widespread use, including for waterproofing, at the time and place (Egypt, New Kingdom era).”

Egyptologist Kate Fulcher of the British Museum, who actually works in a field having to do with these things, wrote, on the other hand, just 13 months ago in a peer-reviewed scientific journal: “Given that evidence for bitumen use in Egypt in the New Kingdom has previously been limited to a few individual samples from objects with poor provenance, this study provides proof for a much more extensive use than might have been suspected, with a secure archaeological context.” [my bolding and italics]

You still haven’t retracted your original statement: “pitch was not available in Egypt at the time of Moses”. This is what started this entire debate. Isn’t it funny how soon we forget what we ourselves stated not long ago? Once I refuted that, you retreated (minus retraction or concession) to “pitch wasn’t particularly available in Egypt, and there is no evidence it was used at all for caulking, during the supposed Moses time.” [my bolding and italics, to show the sneaky evolution]

You dispute the caulking of boats now, with more textual arguments. That’s fine. As they say, two archaeologists have three opinions about any given thing; so they disagree with each other. What else is new?

Then you make your usual sweeping claim, which is refuted by Fulcher, who has now produced compelling molecular evidence of several previously unknown uses in an Egyptian-occupied area (Nubia), during the general time of Moses (and refers to three other instances from his time that I had not mentioned before in my presentation of evidences).

You can be sure that if it comes down to the report of an expert in the field, vs. your opinion as a non-scientist (that you have essentially forced yourself to take, because of having to shore up your several past ridiculous, unfounded, and unduly dogmatic statements), I will go with the former, because she is 1) credentialed, and 2) doesn’t have the outside agenda that you do (to disprove any remote harmony between archaeology and the Bible as regards Moses in Egypt).

Hilarious. I’ll get to the main thrust tomorrow as it is bedtime now. However, I do like the accusation that I haven’t retracted something but, hang on, I’ve changed what I had said. Exactly, I’ve changed what I’ve said. That’s the point. That is exactly what I admitted above. Well done. (6-16-21)

Yes, you tried to act as if you had never made the dumb statement of a universal negative about pitch in Egypt, so you wouldn’t be embarrassed in front of your fan club. All I had to do to refute that from the beginning of this, was show any evidence at all of pitch in Egypt during Moses (which wasn’t hard to do). Then it became more technical, with you demanding proofs of caulking, etc.

But your original point that I responded to has been decisively refuted. An open-minded thinker would have conceded or retracted and admitted that he was wrong in his initial comment (which would also entail changing several of your articles to reflect that). And you have done none of those things. Instead, you upped your rhetoric and accusations against me as “disingenuous”, anti-science, etc.

The increased insults you throw out are yet more proof of your overall shaky case.

Sorry, just to confirm that I am the one insulting you? Really? Do you want me to list all of the insulting things you have said to me across all of your pieces? (6-17-21)

Yes, really, and sure, go ahead. To my knowledge, I haven’t insulted you as “disingenuous” or “dishonest” or questioned whether you love science. I haven’t attacked you personally, as you have increasingly done to me. Now, of course, I may have slipped here and there, as we all do. If you show you where I have done so, I will apologize here (publicly), retract, and remove it. Would you do the same? Well, we’ll see. I challenge you.

Otherwise, it’s all about the strength of arguments, which is fair game.

Dude, all my articles are there for you to see. And I have not redacted any of them. You know, like you did. I stand by my original statement: pitch was an anachronism. That was the strength of my statement. We have now looked at a whole bunch of extra data you have provided and I have changed my probabilities on that by a small amount, all of which I said in my articles. I am not being dishonest in any way. Can you say the same? (6-17-21)

Yes. Dishonesty (including intellectual dishonesty) is a form of lying. That’s one of the Ten Commandments, and Jesus said that the devil is the father of lies. It’s not a trait viewed very favorably by Christians (or any other major ethical system in the history of the world).

Modifying a paper (which could be for any number of legitimate reasons) is not necessarily “dishonest.” There is a dishonest form of it, but it doesn’t follow that any change is of that nature. I openly explained why I removed the Sargon stuff.


Pearce put up yet another paper on the topic (dated 6-17-21), which he claimed will be the last one.

My reply:

There’s a lot I could say in response to this, but there is no reason to waste further time on this. You still completely misinterpret what I was saying about mummification, even though I explained that. But now that you have reiterated several times that you don’t even read my papers (in one case you said you stopped right in the middle, even before I presented new archaeological evidence that I had found), I can see why you repeat things that are absurd: arguments that never crossed my mind. That’s what people do when they don’t read the replies of their opponent in a debate.

You throw in my face a portion of the latest article I cited: “Given that evidence for bitumen use in Egypt in the New Kingdom has previously been limited to a few individual samples from objects with poor provenance…” You then use that to “prove” that I refuted myself.

It never occurs to you that if I were special pleading and not properly exercising a scientific attitude, that I never would have included that in my citation (which was just a small portion of the article). But because I have a scientific attitude and am honest and open about research being done, I included it. It’s her opinion. But so also is what she concluded immediately after saying this: “this study provides proof for a much more extensive use than might have been suspected, with a secure archaeological context.” This shows her own open-mindedness. She acknowledges that the evidence was rather weak overall, but that now she has produced “proof” for “much more extensive use.”

So once again, your original statement was roundly refuted, because it was more evidence for bitumen use in Egypt and areas it dominated (Nubia) during the time of Moses: precisely what I had to prove, according to my original interest in your false sweeping statement. I never set out to prove, or claim that one could find an actual reed basket covered in pitch. I was merely disproving your false sweeping statement (which if true would expressly contradict the biblical account), just as I did regarding camels and many other alleged anachronisms. What I replied to in the first place with all this “pitch” business was eleven words in one of your papers: “pitch was not available in Egypt at the time of Moses”.

Note that you were not saying that it wasn’t used for caulking, or for reed baskets, etc. Your “argument” was much more sweeping than that (and thus much harder to prove from archaeology): it was not available, period. End of story. No subtleties, no academic / scholarly nuances, no exceptions. And this was one of the many reasons given in that article for thinking that the Exodus story was absolutely “ridiculous.”

And this tidbit (like many along the same lines) you got from an archaeologist who wrote a chapter in one of John Loftus’ books. She should know way better than that, by simply surveying the literature on the topic (as I have now done). But she apparently didn’t do that (the first major counter-article I produced was written in 1992). You and I are not archaeologists, but she is, and thus has no excuse for saying such a false statement in the sweeping way that she did. I don’t say it was dishonesty, but at best it was incompetence and letting her atheist bias overcome her professional expertise.

I have since produced many instances of bitumen use in Egypt, that you yourself tacitly recognize; you simply say it’s a weak argument because isn’t about caulking / waterproofing or reed baskets, etc. But you don’t deny that there was any use or presence at all, when you get down to analyzing particulars. And (I can’t emphasize enough) that was all I set out to prove from the outset: that it did exist in Egypt during the time of Moses. That’s all! I got into more particulars as time went on because you kept demanding it, so I kept looking.

This is how you were self-contradictory all along: acting as if you had never made the statement you did. And I called you on it. I don’t say it is intellectual dishonesty, but I would speculate that it was embarrassment that you were shown to be so wrong from archaeology, and a failure to retract that.

Again (repetition is a great teacher, and you still don’t seem to grasp this), my task, when all was said and done, was simply to prove that pitch / bitumen was available in Egypt at the time of Moses (what it is used for is a different question, and not what I was setting out to prove at first). You have in effect admitted that several times, though now you want to say that you still believe it was an “anachronism.” That makes no sense, but neither does much of your reasoning in this debate, so I can’t figure out this odd Orwellian “logic” you apply, where a thing can both exist in a certain place and time and not do so.

To end on a positive note: glad to hear that you “enjoyed doing this.” So did I (notwithstanding all the frustrations), because I always enjoy a challenge and a debate. So we have that in common, if nothing else. Maybe we both like pizza and beautiful sunsets, too.


More evidence for bitumen use in Egypt (and for caulking reed baskets) during the time of Moses might possibly be found in the shaduf: “an early crane-like tool with a lever mechanism, used in irrigation” (Wikipedia). This very useful machine was “invented in Mesopotamia and Egypt around 2000 BC” (The Technology of Mesopotamia, by Graham Faiella, Rosen Publishing Group, 2006,  p. 27). That’s about 630 years before Moses.

The article, “Evolution of Water Lifting Devices (Pumps) over the Centuries Worldwide” by S. I Yannopoulos et al in the journal Water (9-17-15) stated that the shaduf  “appeared in Upper Egypt sometime after 2000 BC, during the 18th Dynasty (ca. 1570 BC).” That’s 200 years before the birth of Moses. And: “Danus of Alexandria in 1485 BC dug the wells of Argus on the coast of Peloponessus and installed the Egyptian chain-o-pots as pumps, in place of the ‘atmospheric’ or ‘force’ pump.” That’s about 115 years before the birth of Moses.

The Wikipedia article adds (importantly for our discussion):

The sweep is easy to construct and is highly efficient in use It consists of an upright frame on which is suspended a long pole or branch, at a distance of about one-fifth of its length from one end. At the long end of this pole hangs a bucket, skin bag, or bitumen-coated reed basket.

The sources it lists don’t appear to mention bitumen, however, or reed baskets covered with them, in Egypt during Moses’ time; so it will require more digging to verify that practice. I could find nothing, after quite a bit of searching. Many sites mention it, but they are not from scientists or professional historians, and that’s not good enough to nail down the point.


Photo credit: Moses with the Tablets of the Law, by Guido Reni (1575-1642) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Summary: Atheist Jonathan M. S. Pearce insists on the non-availability of pitch (bitumen) in Moses’ Egypt. I offer massive archaeological documentation that supports the notion of wide availability.

March 21, 2021

This is the continuation of a series of exchanges on this general topic:

Pearce’s Potshots #17: Doubting Thomas & an “Unfair” God [3-17-21]

Debate w Atheists: Doubting Thomas & an “Unfair” God [3-17-21]

Pearce’s Potshots #18: Doubting Thomas & Evidence [3-18-21]

Pearce’s Potshots #19: Doubting Thomas & a “Mean God” [3-19-21]

It started out with an analysis of the Doubting Thomas story, by atheist Jonathan MS Pearce. The he tried to pivot from the Bible to straight philosophy, which is fine, but not what I do in my apologetics. I only tangentially touch upon philosophy of religion. Now, one “eric” (words in blue below, from a combox on Jonathan’s site): a friendly atheist with whom I’ve had several dialogues, tries to pick up the ball with an analogy. But first I explain why I didn’t respond to Jonathan’s third counter-reply to me on this topic:


This is one for some [academic] Christian philosopher to grapple with. I replied to the initial Doubting Thomas paper precisely because it was a claim about Holy Scripture. That allows something objective (i.e., the text in question, biblical exegesis, and related cross-texts, in relation to systematic theology) to be discussed. That’s at least 90% of what I do with atheists. They go after something in Scripture. I offer counter-replies.

Jonathan wants to discuss the question: “Is the alleged ‘God’ unfair?” [a philosophical discussion]

What I do as an apologist is explain and defend the position: “Is God as understood in the Bible and Christianity ‘unfair’?” [a theological / exegetical discussion]

This purely philosophical stuff (with regard to this particular question) is subjective, and in my opinion, it’s futile for most Christians to interact with it, because it goes round and round and nothing is accomplished (precisely because it is a subjective argument and there is no measuring standard). It’s a wax nose that can be molded in whatever way the atheist wants to twist it. So I leave it to Christian philosophers to contend with. I don’t claim to be any kind of philosopher (other than a very amateur “armchair” one). I’ve written a lot about the problem of evil and on predestination, but that’s about it.

I did get a big kick out of Jonathan claiming that I finally “got” something because (so he thinks) he explained it to me and walked me through it. As I clarified, he misunderstood me on a key point. I clarified it, and now he is spinning it so that he can pretend that I only got it after he explained it to me. Nice try. I got it all along because it was my opinion all along. This is essentially calling me a liar, and doubting my self-report that I was misunderstood. I admitted that my wording could have been better (because I try to be intellectually modest and open-minded as to fault). That should have been the end of it. But unfortunately it wasn’t, and Jonathan sunk into pettiness (which I don’t perceive to be his usual style), in order to avoid being wrong as to what my position was.

Again: this present post is almost wholly within his field of philosophy of religion, so I pass. Likewise, when Jonathan enters my domain of Bible study and exegesis, he has taken many passes (not replying to about 7-8 of my replies to him, by now). He has revealed himself as woefully ignorant on many many things in that field (as we would expect). The nature of the present argument in this post above is not my field. I recognize my own limitations, and I want to see the most qualified Christian (i.e., a professional philosopher or maybe a philosophy grad student) take this on and refute its errors. I think it deserves that consideration as a serious piece (i.e., minus the nonsense about me in it).


[now onto eric’s reply]

There are several fallacies and false premises and straw men in play here (as always in anti-theist atheist arguments). Let’s pick them apart, one-by-one. You cited my statement which is indeed a description of how God approaches every human being. He wants no one to “perish” (i.e., spiritually, in terms of eternity), as the Bible says. So I wrote: “I think God does provide sufficient evidence (of all sorts) for every human being”. That’s the backdrop and it’s my premise (agree or disagree) and that of the Bible and [virtually all of non-Calvinist] Christianity.

So you come along (after promptly discontinuing our previous dialogue on the same topic, just when it was getting interesting and might have actually accomplished something) with what you think is a knockout / compelling reductio ad absurdum analogy:

Alice and Bob are both going to jump out a 10th story window. Alice responds to emotional pleas. Bob responds to empirical examples. Charlene knows a perfect emotional plea. She also has an egg she can drop out the window, which will go splat and convince Bob that he’ll go splat too. Charlene makes the emotional plea to Alice. She steps back, safe. Charlene chooses not to do the egg-drop for Bob. Bob steps out the window, goes splat, dies.

Along comes Jonathan, who asks: why didn’t Charlene do the egg drop to save Bob? Dave Armstrong responds: egg drops are not the only way Charlene has to convince people. The fact that Charlene offers many non-egg-drop ways to convince people undercuts your argument that Charlene should’ve done the egg drop for Bob.

I must admit, DA’s argument makes no sense to me.

Note that this is already inconsistent with what I stated as my overall premise. In order for the reductio analogy to succeed, it has to actually be dealing with my premise, showing how it is incoherent and unworthy of belief. By nature, it is a critique of my views, not a statement of atheist ones per se.

Once again, it assumes (as in Jonathan’s thought) that one little empirical demonstration [and this particular one] would be sufficient to convince Bob not to jump (as if Bob didn’t know that he would go splat, too, if he jumped out of the ten-story window). This is by no means the case, so the analogy is already fatally weakened by that consideration. But we’ll set that aside for the moment, for the sake of argument.

The other fallacy is that it seems to be assumed that there are no other conceivable ways that Charlene could save Bob. All she can do in this presentation is drop the stupid egg. That’s the sum total of the “weapons” in her arsenal of suicide prevention tactics. But that’s dumb, too. Neither reality overall, nor even suicide prevention works this way: “one size fits all.”

It assumes, moreover, that Charlene is unwilling to do any other method other than this one.

Moreover, Charlene is not omniscient as God is. This is a vast difference, making the analogy null and void in and of itself. God knows how any human being will react to His free offers of love and mercy and salvation: not only what they will actually do (since He is outside of time, too) but also what they would do in any conceivable possible or hypothetical situation in any possible universe (as part of his middle knowledge or scientia media: which is directly indicated in the Bible, too, by the way).

Therefore, if Charlene were God, and the jump out of the window represents entrance into the afterlife, and Charlene / God knew (out of omniscience) that the egg-drop would have saved Bob, then God / Charlene absolutely would have done that to save him. Yet you say she didn’t do it, and this is supposed to represent how God would supposedly act. It does not at all, and as I said, it goes contrary to my premise; therefore, it doesn’t refute my view because it doesn’t deal with it in the first place. It’s the creation of a straw man, which is then shot down. I certainly agree 100% that the analogy presents an objectionable scenario. But I 100% disagree that it is my (and God’s scenario).

Lastly, if Charlene were omniscient and all-loving as God is, then she would have known with certainty whether or not the egg-drop would work or not and would have acted accordingly. And Charlene / God would have known with certainty that if it didn’t work, what would work (and so would have done what worked). And God / Charlene also knows if and when nothing whatever will work to alter a person’s free will choices of rejection of God and salvation: that some people will reject all and any such attempts, which would explain not (necessarily or obligatorily) making any attempts in those cases, because they were destined to be futile.

Likewise, Jesus knew that physically appearing to Thomas would work for him (as a hard-nosed empiricist type), therefore He appeared. But He also knew that such an appearance would not work for everyone — hence His statement in Luke 16 that even folks rising from the dead would not convince many people: as indeed it didn’t convince most of the Jews at the time of Jesus’ Resurrection. He would have known, for example, that whatever He said would not have saved Judas: so we don’t see Him begging and pleading with Judas to repent. He already knew that He wouldn’t no matter what: thus freeing Himself from the moral obligation to do all that.

So Jesus would have used other ways to persuade others: as much as possible to save any given individual. But at the same time He will not force anyone to be saved. This is the “sufficiency” vs. “efficiency” argument. “Sufficient” knowledge for salvation means that one knows enough to be saved. But he or she still has to accept the free grace and the knowledge, and act accordingly. That’s the limitation of sufficiency. “Efficient” salvation, on the other hand, is the false scenario where there is no human free will (as in Calvinism).

Therefore, God simply decrees from all eternity (or from after the fall of man, in a somewhat weaker form) that group of persons X are saved and in the elect and that group of persons are damned and non-elect. This works with 100% efficiency: all in both groups wind up exactly where God willed them to end up, minus any input of their free will choices (because in fact they have no free will). Non-Calvinist Christians agree with atheists that this is an outrageously unfair and unjust system and makes God — in the final analysis — an evil tyrant or capricious moral monster.

Jonathan poked at my use of “sufficiency”: not understanding this well-known distinction that is made in Christian soteriology (theology of salvation). His ignorance of theology is never surprising. I’ve never met a well-known atheist figure yet who did properly understand Christianity (they all rejected straw men to some — or a large — extent, if they had been Christians).

This is why I have analyzed many deconversion stories. Nothing makes atheists more angry and furious than that. I do them because I am showing how these atheists rejected straw men, not the real thing, when they rejected what they present as “Christianity.” I’ve never examined one where this wasn’t the case. No exceptions (and I’ve done 30 or so). Atheists of the anti-theist type blithely assume that they are the superior and smart people and that Christians are ignoramuses, idiots, and imbeciles. That’s why they get so FURIOUS when a Christian shows how their own reasons for rejection of Christianity fall flat (being based on false notions and straw men).

Such a thing is impossible (so they think) and so, in order to counter the outrageousness and utterly bad form of the “impossible becoming possible” they attack the Christian rather than admit their own ignorance as to the nature of various aspects of Christianity. But I digress. Back to the post I am replying to.

This is part one of the “atheists are lying” argument for divine hiddenness.

I never claimed that at any time, nor insinuated it, as carefully explained at length in one or more of my replies to Jonathan. So thanks for attributing to me something I never did. If you’re so convinced that this is my position, cite something I have said. I have, however, drawn the distinction between the “open-minded agnostic” and “God-rejecters”. Even the latter in many cases, I believe, chose to believe in falsehoods, with a perfectly sincere belief. They chose to go down a wrong road, by means of false premises that they embraced. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are flat-out lying. This makes it all the more tragic, because they would then be essentially damned, by their own false choices, rather than deliberate rebellion against that which they know to be true. But in some cases, the latter is true. There are indeed utterly evil, corrupt, wicked people in absolutely every class.

I just never claimed this to be the case with atheists en masse.

You see, what we silly Charlene-doubters don’t understand is that Charlene did convince Bob to step back from the ledge.

Well, she clearly didn’t convince him in your analogy, which supposedly accurately represents some Christian position (one I have never encountered in my 44 years of observant Christianity; even Calvinism is not as arbitrary and absurd as what you present). If God / Charlene did, in fact, try to reach Bob in other ways (which is what we claim), then they would have to be present in the analogy, for it to be accurate, wouldn’t they? If you present something in a grotesquely distorted form, then what it supposedly represents will be thought of accordingly. But since it’s a caricature in the first place, it loses all force of argument and is an empty charade.

But Bob is prideful and would rather die than admit Charlene convinced him. So he jumps anyway. Sounds crazy, right?

There are people like that, whether atheism or Christianity are true. Or do you wish to deny that there are human beings with pride who can never admit they were wrong? To me, this is self-evidently true whether God exists or not. If He does, there are people so evil that they would reject Him even if He appeared as He did to Thomas. After all, in Christian theology, the devil himself was one of God’s highest angels, yet even he managed to reject God (knowing full well what God was like in his own experience), thinking he had a better way.

But wait, it gets worse! Because you are a Bob. Charlene has convinced you too. And if you say otherwise, you must be lying. That’s the argument here – that’s what we’re supposed to believe.

It’s a gross caricature in many ways, as explained. You’re capable of much better than this. You have made much more respectable arguments in dialogue with me. This one falls flat.

What you don’t get (and what I have explained in these four responses) is that Jesus knew beforehand who would respond to His message or miracles and who would not.

This is part two of the “atheists are lying” argument for divine hiddenness.

It has nothing to do with any of that. It’s an argument from God’s benevolence combined with His omniscience.

You see, Bob is lying to himself and to everyone else about egg-drops convincing him he’ll go splat; an egg-drop wouldn’t really convince him.

There are any number of things that might convince him, or none. The analogy isn’t in-depth enough to address that. It’s simplistic and naive (which has been the problem with the atheist view throughout this whole debate). The question comes down to “how much evidence is sufficient for someone to believe in God and His salvation?” That’s the “$64,000 question” in atheist-Christian discussions.

Apologetics tells us this must be true, since Charlene didn’t save him via egg drop.

Apologetics does no such thing. Our actual view is if Charlene represents God, then she would do absolutely everything to persuade him to accept her existence and salvation. Bob would then have the choice of how to respond, and this includes rejection (which may come about for innumerable reasons: most of which are not simply “lying to himself” or what-not), and this free choice includes utter rejection of what is either 1) not understood or [in extreme cases] 2) understood full well and still rejected.

Extending this to other Bobs in the world, we must similarly conclude that no, none, zero, zilch humans on Earth would be convinced (only) by egg drops – and again, this comes from the apologetic demand to explain why Charlene never uses them.

Every individual is different, and treated accordingly by God.

Lastly, if you claim you would be convinced by an egg-drop, well you’re either self-delusional or lying.

You’re big on this element, but it plays little or no part in my argumentation. It’s just a caricature of apologetics and the Christian view, to the effect that we think everyone is lying who disagrees with us. Some individual Christians who are stupid and ill-educated believe that. It doesn’t follow that our system itself teaches it.


Photo credit: Insomnia Cured Here (10-12-07) [Flickr / CC By-SA 2.0 license]


Summary: This is my latest reply (fifth one) on the topic of a supposedly “hidden” God and an “unfair” God. I respond at length to a gross caricature of a reductio ad absurdum analogy about how God supposedly is terribly negligent in seeking to save souls.


March 19, 2021

Atheist anti-theist Jonathan M. S. Pearce is the main writer on the blog, A Tippling Philosopher. His “About” page states: “Pearce is a philosopher, author, blogger, public speaker and teacher from Hampshire in the UK. He specialises in philosophy of religion, but likes to turn his hand to science, psychology, politics and anything involved in investigating reality.” His words will be in blue.

This is my fourth piece on Doubting Thomas and third in response to Jonathan. See the previous installments:

Pearce’s Potshots #17: Doubting Thomas & an “Unfair” God [3-17-21]

Debate w Atheists: Doubting Thomas & an “Unfair” God [3-17-21]

Pearce’s Potshots #18: Doubting Thomas & Evidence [3-18-21]

I am presently responding to his post, Doubting the Lessons from Doubting Thomas: Responding to Dave Armstrong Again (3-18-21).


I started off this debate the other day with a short piece about the unfairness of the distribution of evidence as exemplified by the Doubting Thomas episode in John. Catholic Dave Armstrong replied, and I duly responded. I then finally found a comment in one of my threads, by Dave, that actually dealt with my points in some way (a novel idea, I know), so have decided to look at that.

Delighted that you think I have actually replied to one of your points. I’m still waiting to experience the same pleasure on this end. :-)

It was a comment in reply to Geoff Benson who also noticed how Armstrong failed to deal with my points in any substantive way… Please read those previous pieces for context.

And of course many of my readers will likewise feel that you have been tiptoeing around all of my arguments thus far. Perhaps this will be the exception (“dear Lord please!”). Hope springs eternal.

Over to Armstrong:

I think God does provide sufficient evidence (of all sorts) for every human being, but human beings have various mechanisms by which they rationalize such things away or reject them. If it’s not efficient enough to bring about belief (I’m not a Calvinist and believe in human free choices and free will) then one can either criticize God or point out that perhaps the person involved has an irrational demand. The fault can conceivably be on either side. God’s not to blame for everything (as many of His critics seem to think).

This is actually contradictory. “Sufficient” does not entail a range. Sufficient means “enough for a particular purpose”. If I need to put oil in my car for the engine to run, then I put in, say, 1 litre. Ceteris paribus, this is sufficient. Of course, if my car has a hole in a pump somewhere, then this is not sufficient. To get to the next town, I need to put in 2 litres to overcome the leak. 2 litres is the sufficient (i.e., required) amount. 1 litre is not sufficient. It should be sufficient if we made inaccurate assumptions about my car by comparing it to another car of the same make and model, but without the leak.

Ceteris paribus.

All other things remaining equal.

But…all other things are not equal. They almost never are.

So, a sufficient amount of oil will change from car to car (as well as the type of oil).

Sufficient evidence (and type of evidence) will change from person to person, no matter what the belief you are talking about.

Yes, exactly (to the last sentence). This is what I am saying: “I think God does provide sufficient evidence (of all sorts) for every human being”: meaning that He considers each person in their uniqueness and communicates to them enough for them to know (taking into account their particular background and outlook) that He exists and that He gives grace for salvation, and indeed is the key to human joy and fulfillment, and happiness.

What Dave is erroneously saying is that 10 units of evidence that the moon landings never happened is sufficient for Harry to believe in the conspiracy theory; therefore, 10 units of evidence is sufficient for Julie.

That’s not my position, as explained, though I can see that how I worded it there might give someone an impression that I meant “one size for all” or suchlike.

But Julie is a scientist and a skeptic whose uncle worked on the NASA team. 10 units simply isn’t sufficient for her.

This is skeptical thinking 101.

We have no disagreement on this particular matter. You have misunderstood me. I take my share of the blame if I wasn’t clear or precise enough in my words. Now I have now clarified, in any event. It’s great to be able to agree on something besides “2+2=4” and “water is wet.”

Dave’s contradiction is obvious:

I think God does provide sufficient evidence (of all sorts) for every human being, but human beings have various mechanisms by which they rationalize such things away or reject them.

should be translated as:

I think God does provide sufficient evidence for every human being, but all humans are different meaning that the evidence isn’t actually sufficient.

Or A ≠ A.

Since I was misunderstood, no contradiction has been shown.

Which he almost begrudgingly accepts, and then says of the entity who knowingly created and designed everything in existence in the full knowledge it would do what it would do because he designed it that way:

The fault can conceivably be on either side. God’s not to blame for everything (as many of His critics seem to think).

I utterly contest that claim. He needs to explain that in light of classical theism and OmniGod. See:

Ah, links, huh? I’ll respond the same way you responded to my links in one of my replies (“I’ll ignore the long tirade of articles Armstrong offers . . .”). Maybe your “tirade” is smaller in number, but following your methodology, I’ll ignore them, just as you did, mine. So, moving on . . . Seriously, though, free will and foreknowledge, etc., is a huge, huge topic in and of itself. At some point it should be discussed, but it’s too “large and lumpy” to visit in the midst of this “unfair God” accusation under present consideration.  Moreover, if you haven’t yet correctly understood my present argument, it would be unfruitful at this juncture for us to venture into predestination, since that is a way deeper and complex topic (among the most difficult in theology).

He continues, unabated:

I think Jesus appeared to Thomas because He knew (knowing all things) that he would respond to such an appearance. But not everyone would or does, as Jesus Himself taught in Luke 16. Therefore, it follows that God would not be required to provide spectacular confirmations to all and sundry. Most of them won’t accept it anyway, and God knows that. A consistent theme in the New Testament is that Jesus performed miracles and taught without parables with and to those He knew would be receptive to both. Hence we have passages like these:

Whoah there. Let’s unpick this theological hot mess[.]

Sure; why not?

So, Thomas was at evidence level 90%, but needed to reach a really really high threshold of 95% to believe. God decided to allow hi[m] this. Dave seems to be on board with this.

But not everyone needs 95%.


So God doesn’t allow supernatural evidence for them.


But some do. And God doesn’t do that for them. This is the crux of the unfairness argument, and I think Dave secretly gets this, but is struggling to wriggle his way out of it.

People have many many different outlooks and presuppositions; therefore, lesser or greater needs for particular forms of evidence and proofs and indications of any given thing (not all of which are empirical). God meets each of them where they are at (this is what we Christians believe). You’re critiquing our view as inconsistent and incoherent, and I keep saying you are mistaken as to what it is in the first place. You have to get it right before you set out to criticize it.

It’s not about providing supernatural evidence to all and sundry (though Thomas got it, so why shouldn’t everybody?), but sufficient evidence for everyone. Time to continue our analogy.

Exactly. God does that. And many people reject it. The atheist never seems o take into account that something could be objectively evident, but blown off due to emotional or presuppositional hostility, or any number of false notions that work against acceptance.

If I fully designed the transportation network from scratch, and I wanted my vehicles to run smoothly, I would probably design them without needing oil. But if that was somehow necessary, I would make sure they all ran optimally, not having inconsistency across the fleet. There would be sufficient oil need and provision for all vehicles.

As indeed there is, But because of human free will, we have the freedom to pursue erroneous ideas and go down wrong paths of thinking and behaving. And these work against the knowing of God: both His existence and Him, personally. The “God” that atheists reject (and I know something about that, having debated scores and scores of them) is an entity that I don’t know at all. It certainly ain’t the biblical God. It’s a gross distortion of Him, and a ridiculous caricature. That (not the one true God) is what is rejected. And so with this massive amount of ignorance, there is hope that the atheists in bondage to such ignorance and folly can eventually see the light.

Matthew 13:58 (RSV) And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

Mark 8:11-12 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven, to test him. [12] And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.”

Which is to admit double standards. God/Jesus did do mighty works for Thomas because of his unbelief. A sign was given to “this generation”: hence the Resurrection and the Gospels!

Hogwash. What you don’t get (and what I have explained in these four responses) is that Jesus knew beforehand who would respond to His message or miracles and who would not. He knew Thomas would, so He appeared to Him. He knew that most of the Pharisees and scribes who opposed Him would not accept His message or miracles and so He wouldn’t do them or communicate the gospel to them. With individuals like Simon the Pharisee or Nicodemus, He would (knowing their hearts).

So it’s no unfairness at all. It’s just having more knowledge than we do. If the Pharisees saw Jesus perform a miracle, they simply concluded that he cast out demons by the power of other demons (to which Jesus replied, “a house divided against itself cannot stand”). When He claimed to be God, they accused Him of lying and blasphemy. This is the sort of thing atheists do: having rebelled against God and the Christian belief and behavior system, they come up with inadequate, failed rationalizations to reject all of it.

This doesn’t make much sense, I’m afraid.

Not to you, because you have predetermined (burdened by your many false premises and misconceptions) that it can’t from the outset. Nothing is ever good enough or sufficient enough.

Then Dave tried some tit-for-tat responding to Geoff and went rather off-topic to Tired Tropesville to discuss Einstein’s religious beliefs.

He introduced that topic, by writing “I would also take issue with the claim that Einstein wasn’t an atheist.” I happen to know that indeed he wasn’t, from his own words, and so I replied. If I hadn’t, then you’d be sitting there (or else one or more of your angelic, acid-tongued minions in your comboxes) claiming that Geoff scored this huge “victory” and shut me up.  Instead, you come up with yet another  of your colorful, cynical descriptions which caricature what I actually did (“Tired Tropesville”). It’s just silly. Again, understand a thing first before setting off to deride “it.” That’s universal advice we can all seek to live by.

The key to understanding any of this (and you can apply this to my teacher or transport analogies) is: “What is God’s goal in creation?”

The Bible is quite clear:

2 Peter 3:9 (RSV) The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

Matthew 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”

John 5:40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

As I say, morality is goal-oriented. Purpose is goal-oriented. For God, why he would do anything that seems unfair is a version of the problem of evil, and defences or theodicies of and for the problem of evil are consequentialist in nature: God allows (or designs in) this evil/suffering for a greater good. And that greater good serves a purpose for an even larger overarching purpose or intention.

You work out that, everything else falls into place.

It “seems” unfair to you (great choice of word there!), because you have several false premises that make it falsely appear to be so. Since you refuse to examine those, you will persist in this error.

You work that out, and you might get an answer as to why God is being unfair. But the case is closed for me: God is being prima facie unfair. I really don’t think you can contest that.

I have worked it out by many different arguments: almost all ignored or not understood.

But this is just another version of the divine hiddenness problem.

And they all suffer from the same sorts of fallacies . . . Arguments are only as strong as the premises upon which they are based.

God is far from explicit about anything, and it requires one to be intelligent enough to wade through a parochial ancient holy text with vast effort and intellectual acumen to even remotely start getting there.

This is rich. You complain that God doesn’t sufficiently explain. The King James Bible (Protestant canon) contains: 783,137 words. God explains many things indeed. If I start to get into depth about Hebrew culture, and linguistic aspects (utilizing scholarly books and commentaries) then I get back the complaint that’s it’s all so complicated, and why couldn’t God make things simple?

Atheists always have an instant (and stupid) “gotcha!” mantra to criticize and trash anything and everything about the Bible. You can rationalize your stupefied ignorance all you like, but manure still smells, no matter how much perfume is thrown on it. We explain biblical teachings till we’re blue in the face, but all we get back is endless ignorant contentiousness and stubborn refusal to ever admit that the Christian may actually have a point here and there. That ain’t open-minded seeking of truth. It’s special pleading.

Whilst not doing this for all the other holy texts. And even then, the best minds in the world can’t even agree on how or whether the atonement even works – why Jesus died or even existed!

Believe me, the “best minds” aren’t agonized over whether He existed. Only fringe atheists believe that He didn’t.

It’s all such nonsense.

My exact opinion of atheism!

Atheism is way more coherent. 

Yes, so coherent that scarcely an atheist can be found who is ever willing to refute resolutions of so-called “biblical contradictions” made by apologists and theologians. That doesn’t suggest a robust confidence in one’s own “coherence.”

Problem is, with being a full-time Catholic apologist, Dave has way too much invested in the belief – too much motivated reasoning – to remotely see the light.

Yeah, I could never conceivably change my mind in any serious way: having gone from Methodist to pagan, then to evangelicalism, then to Catholicism, and from pro-choice to pro-life, ultra-liberal to conservative, and many other things: because I am so closed-minded. I was a Protestant missionary, so one could argue like you and say that I could never possibly become a Catholic, having invested that much in my Protestant views. I did. I seek truth always. This is why I am willing to dialogue with anyone: because I’ll follow truth wherever it leads me, and dialogue is an excellent way to find it and to learn many things short of a major “conversion.” My only requirement is that they are civil and offer some serious substance.

And of course you have your atheist books and exposure as an atheist apologist and blogmaster. You are just as invested as I am. I wouldn’t be so quick to go down that polemical road. Just stick to the arguments.

One hopes that articles like this open a chink in the curtains to let ray of light in.

Problem is, Dave’s still asleep upstairs.

And may the Holy Spirit open your eyes (and those of anyone willing to follow truth wherever it leads).


Photo credit: Christ Crowned with Thorns (c. 1633-1639), by Matthias Stom (fl. 1615-1649) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Summary: 3rd reply to atheist Jonathan MS Pearce, re Doubting Thomas & the silly notion that this incident proves God is “unfair” to the great mass of mankind, & hasn’t sufficiently revealed Himself.


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